Without much evidence at all and probably out of romantic sentiment, the windmill depicted here was long thought to be Rembrandt’s birthplace at Katwijk; he was indeed the son of a miller. In 1915 however Frits Lugt identified the building as the ‘Little Stink Mill’ on De Passeerder bulwark outside of Amsterdam, presumably called thus because it was used for the production and treatment of leather, processes which produced notoriously bad smells.
This being one of Rembrandt’s most-loved etchings and an image of a quintessentially Dutch building type, it is easy to overlook Rembrandt’s precise description of the construction and mechanics of the mill and the anecdotal elements, such as the little figure of the miller about to climb the stairs into the mill with a sack on his back and the woman, possibly washing clothes, in front of the house.
Apart from being a lovingly detailed ‘portrait’ of a building, Rembrandt also took great interest in the atmospheric qualities of the scenery: the wide empty flatlands to the right, put into perspective by the two tiny figures standing on the dyke; the deep, dank shadows under the platform of the mill; and the cloudy, windswept sky indicated by the irregular tone, probably created with sulphur tint. The craquelure, very pronounced in this impression, may well be accidental and caused by cracks in the etching ground. Yet somehow – and despite the fact that it is not descriptive of any natural weather effects - it adds to the atmosphere and lends a certain heaviness to the sky.
The present impression is very comparable to the Slade impression and just a little stronger than the Cracherode impression in the British Museum.