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Rembrandt van Rijn, The Three Trees, an etching

1643/1643

British Museum

British Museum

This print is highly admired as Dutch artist Rembrandt's (1606-1669)greatest landscape etching. His other landscape prints often appear to have been sketched directly from nature, while here the composition is more formal. The three trees dominate the design, but they are buffeted by gusts of wind and rise in a burst of sunlight against a sky of rapidly moving clouds.
On close inspection, the view is filled with an unusual amount of incident. On the left, a standing fisherman watches the end of his line, while his wife waits with a lunch basket. Above them, cows, horses and people are scattered in the sunlit fields, beyond which the towers of the distant city almost vanish in a squall of rain. On the near right, two lovers can be glimpsed in the dark undergrowth. A wagon on the brow of the hill approaches a seated artist, who sketches the view that is out of our sight. Behind the trunks of the three trees, some cottages shelter in the hollow of the hill, while far above them a flock of birds soars high in the sky.
The image is difficult to interpret, but the idea that the trees symbolise the Three Crosses, as is sometimes suggested, is impossible to prove. That man is dominated by the overwhelming force of nature seems clear, but whether this aspect of the print should be linked to contemporary Calvinist theology is far from clear.

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  • Title: Rembrandt van Rijn, The Three Trees, an etching
  • Date Created: 1643/1643
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 213.00mm; Width: 279.00mm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: etching; drypoint
  • Subject: landscape
  • Registration number: 1868,0822.678
  • Producer: Print made by Rembrandt
  • Material: paper
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Bequeathed by Slade, Felix

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