Although Rembrandt was first and foremost a figural painter, his landscapes comprise quite a significant part of his oeuvre. While he made few paintings of this genre, and those came rather early in his career, among his drawings and etchings there are numerous landscapes, predominantly from the 1640–1650s. His first landscape drawings appear around 1633 and they depict Dutch farmhouses. This subject was to follow his oeuvre all the way through, always inspiring him in the solution of newer and newer artistic problems. Even in his early portrayals, Rembrandt never aspired for topographical accuracy: in his works, the elements of imagination and reality appear in an inseparable unity. Nevertheless, in his paintings, it is rather elements of fantasy, while in his drawings and etchings, it is rather those of reality that dominate. These two house depictions preserved in Budapest, of exceptional quality and with a direct naturalness and crispness of style, are conspicuous among Rembrandt’s drawings of the mid-1630s. Contrary to his studies sketched with rapid lines, which the artist had made in the course of his roamings about the environs of Amsterdam, here, the workmanship is painstakingly thorough, which would indicate that these drawings were made not for the purpose of study, but rather as independent artworks in their own right. The striking feature of these two sheets is that their realisation is separated by merely a few hours, the exact same motif depicted in disparate degrees of light and shadow. There are not another two sheets known in Rembrandt’s oeuvre that are so closely related and which would be an extremely early example of the study of changing light conditions: this only became the true subject of artistic experimentation in the nineteenth century.
It is a debatable, but unresolvable question, which drawing was made first. In any case, on the sheet depicting the house in its entirety, the contrast between light and shadow is subtler. It seems that Rembrandt was captivated by the complex structure of the house as viewed from afar. The artist visibly became immersed in his portrayal of the irregular grouping of the house formed from many smaller sections. The larger areas of shadow here are not as deep and homogeneous as in the other drawing; lighter sections, as well as smaller portions left white, appear, suggesting that a bit of weaker light reached this side of the house, as well. On the other sheet, in contrast with the uninterrupted dark fields of shadow, a dramatic opposition is achieved with the gables of the house that have become almost ethereal from the strong sunlight. The luxuriant mass of leaves, seeming almost to tremble from the light, of the picturesque vegetation engulfing the lower sections of roof forms a kind of transition between them. The contrast between the geometric, simple forms of the walls and the irregular, circuitous imbroglio of lines forming the creepers, creating tension, heightens the vitality and dynamic of the portrayal. This drawing produces a more intimate effect, as a result of its closer point of view, the narrower frame, the objects around the entrance and the more detailed depiction of the house. The two works not only record the change in light conditions with great artistic power, but also assert the precise expression of the emotional effect deriving from those differences. On the basis of the dual depiction of the house and its thorough workmanship, it may be presumed that its proprietor was well-acquainted with the artist, and that Rembrandt had a warm, human relationship to the house and its inhabitants.
Text: © TERÉZ GERSZI