The artist drawing from the model; female nude seen from behind to right in studio, background heavily worked; unfinished plate. c.1639 Etching, drypoint and burin, retouched with black lead
- 1639 (circa)
- Height: 232 millimetres
- Width: 184 millimetres
This is first state, for impressions of later states see also F,5.140; 1843,0607.121; and 1879,1011.200. For a late impression, re-worked by Basan, see 1941,0327.11.108
Hinterding et al. 2000
Selected literature: Yver 1756, no. 184; Seymour Haden 1877, pp. 41-2; Saxl 19-10, pp. 41-8; Hofstede de Groot 1912, pp. 70-74; Emmens 1979, pp. 220-29; Schatborn 1986, pp. 18-19; Chapman 1990, pp. 85-6; Berlin-Amsterdam-London 1991-2, pp. 206-8, no. 15; Royalton-Kisch 1992, no.27; Royalton-Kisch 1993b, pp. 181-3; White 1999, pp. 180-82.
This unfinished print, which Rembrandt executed in around 1639, shows an artist seated on a chair, surrounded by his studio equipment. He is drawing a nude female model who stands on a platform holding a large palm leaf. There is a painting on an easel behind them, and a sculpted bust on the mantelpiece on the right. A shield, a sword, a quiver and a plumed beret hang on the wall on the left. Though all these details are clear enough, questions as to the meaning of the representation and why it was left unfinished have puzzled scholars through the years. In the eighteenth century the print was described simply as "the half finished standing nude"; the traditional explanation for its incomplete state is that Rembrandt died before he managed to finish it [See Van Gelder & Van Gelder-Schrijver 1938, p. 12; Gersaint 1751, no. 184; sale catalogue Amadé de Burgy, Amsterdam, 16 June 1755, no. 363]. In 1756, however, Yver noted in a supplement to Gersaint's catalogue that the etching was known in Holland as "the statue of Pygmalion". Pygmalion was a sculptor in ancient times, who fell in love with an ivory statue he had made. He asked Venus to bring the woman to life, and his wish was granted. [Ovid, X, pp. 231-2].
As if to confirm the identification, Rembrandt's composition bears a striking resemblance to Feddes van Harlingen's portrayal of this subject of 1615. The name of Pygmalion continued to be associated with Rembrandt's etching from the late eighteenth century on, even though it was recognized that it showed the artist drawing from a model rather than an enamoured sculptor. Today it is generally assumed to be an allegorical motif, a homage to the art of drawing and designing.
The copper plate has survived, proving that the composition was never completed. It has been suggested that Rembrandt deliberately left it unfinished as a means of illustrating his technique, and that it was especially intended for the instruction of his pupils. [Emmens 1979, pp.220-29]. However, the watermarks and the process by which it came into being argue against this hypothesis. In the rare first state shown here, Rembrandt merely sketched the scene in drypoint, and started to work on the darkest sections first, rather as he had done in the 'Angel appearing to the shepherds' (F,4.80). He was evidently undecided about the length of the model's legs, as he rendered her ankles twice. In the second state, also shown here, he defined her position more clearly by placing her on a small bench, but he also made a number of further changes. The background is darker, and there are new lines on the upper section of the easel. Rembrandt also erased the linen press which stood between the artist and the model in the first state.
At this point Rembrandt made a drawing, presumably after a counterproof of the second state, to prepare for the next stage of the project [Royalton-Kisch 1992, no.27]. In this study the scene is completed. We see the nude standing on a platform, and both her position and the length of her legs are rendered with far greater precision than in the etching. Rembrandt also dispensed with some of the studio equipment.
The question as to why Rembrandt failed to complete the plate remains unanswered. Though it is true that the composition was not yet perfect, its shortcomings were not such as to warrant his abandoning the plate as a failure. Yet this seems to be what happened. The second state was printed several times around 1640 on paper with a Basilisk watermark, but thereafter the plate was apparently left to gather dust for over a decade. [Ash & Fletcher 12, A'.a]. New impressions were made around 1652 on paper with a fleur-de-lis watermark; [Ash & Fletcher 36, E'.a] most of these still look remarkably fresh, with the drypoint burr still clearly visible.
D+F XVIIc Mounted Roy
2000/1 Jul-Jan, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, Rembrandt the Printmaker
2001 Jun-Sep, Edinburgh, NG of Scotland, Rembrant's Women
2001 Sep-Dec, London, Royal Academy, Rembrandt's Women
2002/3 Oct-Jan, Rome, Scuderie del Quirinale, Rembrandt Pittore Incisore
2003/4 Oct-Jan, Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Rembrandt's Journey:... 2004 Feb-May, Chicago, Art Institute, Rembrandt's Journey:...
29 January 1999
Reason for treatment
Lift from mounts. Remove verso debris. Support tears/repair where necessary. Inlay. To be beta-radiographed if there is watermark.
Guarded to solid mount. Slight skinning on verso corners.
Lifted by slitting guards with a scalpel. Debris removed using a poultice of Culminal (nonionic cellulose ether). Adhesive residue removed with cotton wool swabs dampened with warm water. Weak areas supported with Tengujo Japanese tissue and Abra starch (wheat starch) adhesive. Humidified over capillary matting and Gore-Tex in a chamber. Pressed under glass. Inlaid into BM inlay paper using strips of Tengujo Japanese tissue and Culminal (nonionic cellulose ether) adhesive. Pressed.
Prints & Drawings
If you’ve noticed a mistake or have any further information about this object, please email: email@example.com
Object reference number: PPA40802
British Museum collection data is also available in the W3C open data standard, RDF, allowing it to join and relate to a growing body of linked data published by organisations around the world.
The Museum makes its collection database available to be used by scholars around the world. Donations will help support curatorial, documentation and digitisation projects.