The British Museum has expanded its collection of Rembrandt’s drawings with the acquisition of a black chalk sketch of A Baby in a Cap Sleeping in a Cradle, which has been transferred to the nation in lieu of an inheritance tax bill.
This fitting acquisition, made possible through the Arts Council Acceptance in Lieu scheme, adds to the Museum’s collection of Rembrandt’s works on paper, with over 1,000 prints and 72 drawings by the artist himself, and over 300 drawings by his pupils. The public will have the chance to see the drawing and Rembrandt’s gift for depicting children in the spring in a display of his work at the Museum.
The newly acquired work, A Baby in a Cap Sleeping in a Cradle was drawn from life, and Rembrandt used it as a study for the Christ child in his painting of the Holy Family (signed and dated 1645, Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg). This is characteristic of the artist, who drew inspiration from the domestic sphere, and interpreted biblical stories in a touchingly human way – which contributes to his enduring popularity. The drawing was long thought to depict Rembrandt’s son Titus, although he was born in 1641 and therefore older than the depicted child.
The drawing has a long and distinguished provenance and has been in private collections in Britain for over 200 years. This reflects the passion for Rembrandt in Britain in the eighteenth century. British collectors were drawn to Rembrandt’s expressive style. This inspired not only the fanatical collecting of works by the Dutch master, but it also influenced the direction of contemporary British art, as seen in the work of Sir Joshua Reynolds – himself an avid collector of Rembrandt.
The early reception of Rembrandt in Britain is integrally connected to the history of the collection at the British Museum. The newly acquired drawing was owned by some of the most important British collectors, including the Victorian painter, Sir Frederic Leighton. It is therefore significant to the broader history of British tastes and collecting, and to the reception of Rembrandt in Britain.