The French Bed ('Het Ledikantje')

The French Bed ('Het Ledikantje')
counterproof (of the etching and drypoint)
on laid paper, without watermark
a superb example, one of only three known counterproofs of this extremely rare subject
third state (of four)
printing very strongly and sharply, with intense contrasts and much burr
Plate 125 x 225 mm.
Sheet 142 x 239 mm.
Hermann Weber (1817-1854), Cologne, Brussels & Bonn (Lugt 1383); his sale, R. Weigel, Leipzig, 28 April 1856, lot 295 ('La même estampe. Une contre-épreuve du même état, avec beaucoup de marge. Fort rare') (Mk. 16; to Weigel).
With Rudolph Weigel, Leipzig.
With Hill-Stone Inc., New York.
Sam Josefowitz (Lugt 6094; on the support sheet recto); acquired from the above in 1990; then by descent to the present owners.
Bartsch, Hollstein 186; Hind 223; New Hollstein 230 (this impression cited)
Stogdon 74

C. S. Ackley, et al., Rembrandt’s Journey – Painter, Draftsman, Etcher, exhibition catalogue, MFA Publications, Boston, 2003, p. 162-163 (another impression illustrated).
E. Hinterding, G. Luijten, M. Royalton-Kisch, Rembrandt the Printmaker, exhibition catalogue, British Museum, London, 2000, no. 52, p. 218-220 (another impression illustrated).
N. Stogdon, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Etchings of Rembrandt in a private Collection, Switzerland, privately printed, 2011, no. 74, p. 122-125 (this impression illustrated).

Brought to you by

Maja Markovic
Maja Markovic Director, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

The delicately named ‘French Bed’ is one of a small number of explicitly erotic prints by Rembrandt, and one of the rarest etchings in his entire oeuvre. It is testament to the greatness of Sam Josefowitz as a collector that he was able to acquire not just one impression of the fourth state, but also the very fine counterproof of the third state presented here.

The print depicts a young couple making love on a large four-poster bed with a canopy. They seem to have just tumbled onto the bed, with the trousers and skirts off, but shirts still on. There is a half-empty glass of wine on the bedside table, and the man has thrown his feathered hat over one of the bedposts. The woman looks at her lover with a smile, and the perplexing fact that she has three arms and hands adds to the vivacity of the scene.

Erotic subjects have been part of the print production in Europe at least since the beginning of the 16th century, as Ger Luijten pointed out in his discussion of this print (Hinterding, 2000, p. 218-20), including some outright pornographic subjects such as Marcantonio Raimondi’s I Modi (1524) or Agostino Carracci’s Lascivie (circa 1590-95). Raimondi’s series attracted the attention and moral indignation of Pope Clement VII, who commanded the destruction of the prints and the incarceration of the engraver. Often disguised as scenes of classical mythology, the misdemeanors of the Prodigal Son or cautionary depictions of Sin, there was always demand for such imagery – and the risk of censorship, suppression, or even prosecution. Being a private medium, printmaking allowed for the production of explicit images more easily than painting, yet the editions were presumably always small and discreetly distributed amongst collectors. The extremely rare, small engravings of the Beham brothers are another case in point.

Rembrandt was certainly aware of these forerunners, and even borrowed some established attributes of lewd behaviour from earlier prints, such as the baldachin bed, the plumed hat and the glass of wine. It is to Rembrandt’s credit – and very much in line with his humane and slightly subversive character – that he did not try to classicise, moralise or otherwise elevate his print. Nor is it in any way crass or obscene, and that's makes this etching so charming and light-hearted: they are just two young people having a good time together.

The Dutch nickname for this famous, yet practically unobtainable print, ‘Ledikant’, describes the type of bed depicted here, which was an unusual and presumably quite grand piece of furniture in Holland at the time. Most people of a certain standing slept – as can be seen today at the Rembrandthuis – in a box bed built into the corner of a room. A freestanding, canopied ‘French’ bed such as the one depicted here must have suggested wealth, and presumably a certain licentiousness. Rembrandt chose to depict a similar bed in his etching David at Prayer (see lot 16), undoubtedly to allude to the King's past sexual transgressions.

The present counterproof, printed by placing a blank sheet onto a freshly printed impression and passing it once more through the press, is an extreme rarity. Today, a total of 22 impressions of the subject are known: None of the assumed first state, one of the second state, four of the third state and 17 of the fourth, final state. This census includes the three known counterproofs: the present one, another of the third state in Amsterdam (Rijksmuseum), and one of the fourth state in Vienna (Albertina).

Being printed from another print and not directly from the plate, counterproofs are reversed, resulting in the image being shown in the same direction as it is on the plate. This allowed the artist to see whether and how certain changes should be made on the plate. In some instances, Rembrandt used this method to try out certain revisions or additions to an image by drawing onto a counterproof. Occasionally however, he must have printed counterproofs simply because there was a market for such rare variants or oddities. It allowed him to sell the same print twice to the same collector: once as a print, once as a counterproof. Whether this is the case here we cannot know, although one could make the case that this sheet is indeed a working proof, as it shows a pentimento on the wineglass which is present in the unique second state-impression (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, inv. no. RP-P-1961-1093) but has been corrected in the third state (see Stogdon, no. 73).

Counterproofs can lack in strength and clarity. This excellent example however, undoubtedly taken from one of the very first pulls of this plate, is rich, sharp and full of burr on the canopy, the table cloth and elsewhere. The print has an ethereal, drawing-like quality to it - and some delicate details of the figures can be seen even more clearly that in other examples.

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