Rembrandt van Rijn, Self-portrait with mouth open, a drawing

The Netherlands, around AD 1628-29

Rembrandt first drew the face and collar with pen and brown ink. The line is fluid and strongly applied, although it has faded with time. He then drew in the hair, the unlit part of the coat and the dark side of the face with broad sweeps of the brush and grey wash. It is likely that Rembrandt drew himself under a strong artificial light from the left, as a second layer of grey wash reinforces the central line of darker shadows that divides the lighter from darker areas. The white of the paper alone suggests the dramatic light.

The portrait has been ruled at the edges to create a frame. Rembrandt's promotion of his self-image through numerous self-portraits in paintings, engravings, etchings and drawings is well known. This rapid sketch, one of his first self-portraits, was made when Rembrandt was between 22 and 23 years old.

Rembrandt was not just interested in his own features for his own sake. He also needed to understand and reproduce accurately the widest variety of human feelings and emotions. Samuel van Hoogstraten, who was a pupil of Rembrandt's, wrote in his Introduction to the Art of Painting (1678):

You will benefit from depicting your passions as you see them before you, especially before a mirror, where you are at once subject and beholder.

In this drawing, the artist's open mouth, his dark open eyes and his ruffled hair create a vivid immediacy.

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More information


C. White and Q. Buvelot (eds.), Rembrandt by himself (National Gallery, London & Mauritshuis, The Hague, 1999)

M. Royalton-Kisch, Drawings by Rembrandt and his, exh. cat. (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)


Height: 122.000 mm
Width: 95.000 mm

Museum number

PD Gg.2-253 (Revd C.M. Cracherode Bequest, 1799)


Bequeathed by Revd C.M. Cracherode


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