Jacob's Dream

Aert de Gelder1710-15

Dulwich Picture Gallery

Dulwich Picture Gallery

Until the late nineteenth century this painting was assumed to be by Rembrandt and it was one of the most popular works at Dulwich. It was then re-attributed to Arent de Gelder, Rembrandt's last pupil. De Gelder's signature (lower right) was revealed during cleaning in 1946.

De Gelder took many of his master’s most instinctive experimental techniques and developed one of the most extreme painterly styles of the period. In this case, trees and signature alike are scrabbled into the wet paint with the wooden end of the brush, while the trunk of the tree seems to have been smeared onto the wet canvas with a fingertip.

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  • Title: Jacob's Dream
  • Date: 1710-15
  • Physical Dimensions: w569 x h667 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: Oil
  • Work Nationality: Dutch
  • Support: Canvas
  • Provenance: London, Christie's, Lebrun of Paris sale, 18-19 Mar. 1785, lot 81 (as Rembrandt). Bt Dillen (for Desenfans?); London, Noel Desenfans, 1802-1807; London, Skinner and Dyke, Desenfans sale, 18 Mar. 1802, lot 163 ('RembrandtÐJacob's Dream'. Descriptive Catalogue, no. 72: 'the angels descending the ladder, and Jacob asleep in modern dress ... that mysterious ladder ... creating an immense volume of air ... an immense distance from the earth to the sky, and a landscape of many miles in the compass of about two feet'). £52.10 Bt in. Handwritten note in copy of the catalogue at The Hague, RKD: '2 3/4 h. 2 1/2.'; London, Sir Francis Bourgeois, 1807-1811; Bourgeois Bequest, 1811.
  • Inscriptions: [ADe] [Gelder]
  • Further Information: "Night fell as Jacob travelled from Beer-Sheba to Haran, so he lay his head on a stone and dreamed he saw a ladder from earth to Heaven with angels ascending and descending ('Genesis', chapter 28, verses 10-12). There is a mix of the homely and heavenly in this Bible story which has always appealed to artists. Arent de Gelder, Rembrandt's last pupil, dwells on the homely side, recreating the scene in a literal-minded, almost comic way with details like the stone pillow, the rustic drinking flask and rough clothes, lovingly described. We see a tired traveller huddled in a corner, surrounded by thorny trees and a wide, dark and inhospitable landscape. We are perhaps more aware of the dreamer than the dream. For De Gelder imagines the glory of Heaven as an effect of landscape. There is no procession of angels striding up and down; rather a burst of light in the top corner as if the moon is just breaking through the clouds. The only distinct angel (held steady by an awesome wing-span) is painted as a simple triangular shape made up of vertical streaks. It appears more like a veiled apparition than a heavenly body, as if this figure (and the vision as a whole) were just a trick of the light. The picture was much admired as a work by Rembrandt until Richter rejected the attribution in 1880. Hofstede de Groot recognised the hand of De Gelder in 1914, and the signature was discovered during cleaning in 1946. "
  • Artist: de Gelder, Arent
  • Acquisition Method: Bourgeois, Sir Peter Francis (Bequest, 1811)


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