The Morgan Library & Museum has the largest and finest collection of Rembrandt prints in the country. The nearly 500 impressions survey the artist’s career as a printmaker from about 1626 to about 1661, during which time he executed some 290 plates. The Cleveland Museum of Art will exhibit a large group of these works, all of which demonstrate that Rembrandt was not only a gifted painter and superb draftsman but also an extremely experimental and original printmaker.
Unlike his predecessors, who sought to achieve a standardized representation of the printed image with little variation from impression to impression, Rembrandt was inclined to experiment. By varying the support and how the plate was inked, he achieved an array of effects so that impressions from the same plate differ significantly. Rembrandt improvised as he worked on the plate, sometimes even changing the concept of the image. He added and subtracted lines, leaving traces of the previous work on the plate, printing proofs at various stages of the work’s completion. Attracted by subtle coloration, he used many different types of paper, and he also printed on vellum, as it is a non-absorbent support. Rembrandt created tone not only by controlling the amount of ink left on the surface of the plate before printing, but by using drypoint as well, which produces broad, velvety lines. He also successfully integrated drypoint with etched and engraved work in one composition.
Rembrandt’s prints cover a wide range of subjects, including Old and New Testament narratives, landscapes, portraits and self-portraits, nudes, and scenes from daily life. He sometimes returned to the same theme, allowing for a comparison of a subject executed decades apart, illustrating his artistic development and experimental advances.
Rembrandt’s prints are some of the best ever made—evidence of a genius who exploited technical means for expressive purposes.