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The Three Trees

The Three Trees
etching with engraving and drypoint
on laid paper, watermark Foolscap with five-pointed Collar (Hinterding A.a.a.)
a brilliant, early and very atmospheric impression of this highly important landscape
printing very richly and darkly, with great depth, intense contrasts and selectively wiped highlights
the sulphur tinting in the sky very pronounced
Plate 214 x 280 mm.
Sheet 221 x 287 mm.
Sir Henry James Johnson, Sotheby’s, London, 18 May 1926 ('With the sulphar [sic] tints and drypoint touches characteristic of the earliest impressions').
With P. & D. Colnaghi & Co., London, 1926 (with their stocknumber C.64707 in pencil verso).
Isaac de Bruijn (1872-1953) and Johanna Geertruida de Bruijn-van der Leeuw (1877-1960), Muri bei Bern (without mark and not in Lugt); acquired for Fl. 15,700; bequeathed to the Rijksprentenkabinet, Amsterdam, in 1961.
Rijksprentenkabinet, Amsterdam (Lugt 2228a, and their duplicate stamp; inv. no. RP-P-1962-72).
With Robert M. Light, Boston; acquired in exchange from the above, for a third state-impression of Christ presented to the people ('Ecce Homo') (inv. no. RP-P-1975-1; with three others), in January 1975.
Charles C. Cunningham Jr. (b. 1934), Boston (without his mark, see Lugt 4684); acquired from the above.
Sam Josefowitz (Lugt 6094, on the window mount verso); acquired from the above in 1978 (through Robert M. Light); then by descent to the present owners.
Bartsch, Hollstein 212; Hind 205; New Hollstein 214 (this impression cited)
Stogdon 93

C. S. Ackley, et al., Rembrandt’s Journey – Painter, Draftsman, Etcher, exhibition catalogue, MFA Publications, Boston, 2003, p. 190-192 (another impression illustrated).
K. Clark, Landscape into Art, John Murray, London, 1976, p. 60-61.
E. Hinterding, G. Luijten, M. Royalton-Kisch, Rembrandt the Printmaker, exhibition catalogue, British Museum Press, London, 2000, no. 48, p. 207-209 (another impression illustrated).
E. Hinterding, Rembrandt Etchings from the Frits Lugt Collection, THOTH Publishers, Bussum & Fondation Custodia, Paris, 2008.
C. P. Schneider, Rembrandt’s Landscapes – Drawings and Prints, exhibition catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., 1990, no. 75, p. 240-242 (another impression illustrated).
C. White, Rembrandt as an Etcher: A Study of the Artist at Work, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1999, second edition, p. 219-221.

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Lot Essay

The Three Trees is one of the most celebrated and memorable landscapes in the history of art. As early as 1751, Edmé-François Gersaint compiled the first catalogue - in effect the first catalogue raisonné in the history of Western art - of Rembrandt’s graphic works. He described this print as 'one of the finest and most finished that Rembrandt made… engraved with great taste and effect’ (quoted in: Hinterding, 2008, p. 391).

Landscape, as a subject in its own right, forms only a small part of Rembrandt’s printed oeuvre, comprising 25 etchings and drypoints created over a period of twelve years, between 1640 and 1652. In these prints Rembrandt largely eschewed the dramatic chiaroscuro seen in his paintings of the previous decade in favour of a more fluid, spontaneous execution - an approach to landscape also very much in evidence in his drawings at the time. The exception is The Three Trees, which is the largest and most ambitious landscape composition and a tour-de-force of the effects of light and shade. It is, in this sense, the most painterly of his landscape etchings, with its dramatic description of the sunlight breaking through after a storm closely related to his painting Landscape with a Stone Bridge of 1637.

Although the view evokes the countryside around Amsterdam, Rembrandt’s interest was not topographical, and The Three Trees is a work of the imagination rather than a depiction of a real place. The characteristically domestic Dutch landscape, with its orderly patchwork of fields with grazing cattle, canals and windmills, and a filigree of cityscape on the horizon, is interspersed with delightful incidental details of rural life: a couple fishing in the foreground, lovers concealed in a thicket, a heavily loaded horse cart on the crest of the hill, a man sketching. Absorbed in their everyday activities of work and play, all seem unaware of the drama unfolding in the skies above their heads – a sublime vista of storm-torn clouds, sheets of rain and brilliant rays of sunlight. The copse of trees, after which the print derives its name, stand portentously on the hill. More than anything else, it is the weather which is the real protagonist of Rembrandt's print. As a portrayal of meteorological phenomena, it prompts comparisons with Giorgione's Tempesta, circa 1508, or even with the rain and snow images of the Japanese ukiyo-e-masters. Rembrandt employed every printmaking technique available to him - etching, engraving, drypoint and sulphur tinting - on this plate to create the most complex and painterly of all his landscape prints.

Although the scene is a virtuoso depiction of the natural world, exquisitely rendered in all its atmosphere and detail, The Three Trees seems laden with an inexplicable metaphysical significance. Kenneth Clark described this tension eloquently: 'Rembrandt was one of the most sensitive and accurate observers of fact who has ever lived.…In his landscape drawings of the 1650’s, every dot and scribble contributes to an effect of space and light…the white paper between three strokes of the pen seem full of air. Yet when he came to paint he felt that all these observations were not more than the raw material of art. For him, as for Rubens, landscape painting meant the creation of an imaginary world, vaster, more dramatic and fraught with associations than that which we can perceive for ourselves’. (K. Clark, 1976, p. 60-61).

The Three Trees presents an eternal dialogue between earth and sky, the human and the elemental, the everyday and the sublime, evoking a sense of the diminutive scale of man, of awe in the face of creation, and of intimations of a wider, more expansive reality.

The present, exquisite example was previously in the collection of some of the most discerning Rembrandt connoisseurs of the 20th century, Isaac de Bruijn and his wife Geertruida van der Leeuw, and later Charles C. Cunningham, amongst others. It is undoubtedly a very early impression, with the watermark Foolscap with five-pointed collar, which Erik Hinterding records for the very first edition of this plate.

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