Few landscape prints in the history of art rival the evocative power of Rembrandt's The Three Trees. The chiaroscuro he had first perfected in his historical paintings is used here in the largest and most ambitious of his etched landscapes, and the strong overplay of shadow demanded all of Rembrandt's technical mastery. Based on the countryside around Amsterdam, Rembrandt graduated distance and atmosphere with breathtaking subtlety, using etched lines of varying density. The three sturdy trees, of uncertain species, are starkly silhouetted against a clear patch of sky, and seem to echo the three crosses as darkness fell (see lot 248).
Where it differs from other landscape etchings is the vivid depiction of the elements at work. Yet the human life depicted in the print - the angler and his wife in the foreground at lower left, the workers in the fields beyond, the cartload of peasants on the dyke behind the trees, the artist resolutely ignoring the approaching storm, and most intriguingly the lovers secreted in the bushes lower right - none of them respond to the climatic drama unfolding around them. That man is dominated by the overwhelming and capricious force of nature is clearly part of the message, but any further investigation into meaning and intention is ultimately futile. The poignant, melancholic characteristics of this print are supported by the knowledge that Saskia died in the year before it was made.