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 in Rembrandt’s other great masterpiece.
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.