A child being taught to walk; two girls, seen from behind, supporting the child on either side, a figure seated on the ground at l encouraging the child, a woman standing behind with a pail. c.1656 Pen and brown ink, on buff prepared paper


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Department: Prints & Drawings

Registration number: 1912,0416.2

Bibliographic reference
Benesch 1973 1169
Royalton-Kisch 2010 53 (Rembrandt)
Hind 1915-31 81

Dutch Roy XVIIc

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Object types
drawing (scope note | all objects)

paper (all objects)
drawn (scope note | all objects)
Production person
Drawn by Rembrandt (biographical details | all objects)
1656 (circa)
Schools /Styles
Dutch (scope note | all objects)

A child being taught to walk; two girls, seen from behind, supporting the child on either side, a figure seated on the ground at left encouraging the child, a woman standing behind with a pail. c.1656

Pen and brown ink on brownish-cream paper.

Verso: see Inscriptions (and illustration). Exceptionally, there is no British Museum stamp.

No watermark.

Inscription Content: Inscribed in pen and brown ink, verso, in Rembrandt’s hand: 'dit voor af te vragen / [vr]agen aen ons beijde oft wijt an de Heeren / [g?]oede mannen willen laten ver blijben / dan tijssen te vragen of Hij niet een / beijden d schilderien gelieft opgemaeckt te hebben / geen van beijden begerende.' Top left, in graphite: '1217' and centre: '2'. The main inscription is written around the '2' and was therefore probably made later, and the ‘2’ could therefore also be autograph.
The main inscription may be translated as follows: 'to ask this first / to [ask] ourselves both whether we will leave it to the gentlemen / good men to ask Thysz. whether he would not like to have one [or?] both the paintings finished/ if he wants neither of the two.'

Height: 93 millimetres (top corners rounded)
Width: 154 millimetres (chain lines vertical, 24mm apart)

Generally good, though trimmed; a little spotted and stained, with some foxing.

Curator's comments
Entry from Martin Royalton-Kisch, 'Catalogue of drawings by Rembrandt and his school', 2010, Rembrandt, cat. no.53:
The last of Rembrandt's studies of a child learning to walk, the subject also of cat. no.13 (1910,0212.187, Benesch 421, q.v.; compare also the related drawing, cat. no.14, 1910,0212.186, Benesch 422) and of a sketch in the Institut Néerlandais in Paris made in around 1639 (Benesch 391).[1]
Various dates have been proposed for the present sheet. A possible clue is provided by the inscription on the verso, which appears to have been made in preparation for an interview or a letter between Rembrandt and his creditors. The artist still owed much of the money used to buy his house in the St. Anthoniebreestraat, Amsterdam, in 1639. Christoffel Thysz., whose name is mentioned, died in 1658, but it has been argued that the drawing is later, executed on an old scrap of paper.[2] Rembrandt's debt to Thysz. was not fully repaid in Thysz.'s lifetime and the inscription could have been made at any moment from c.1650-58, when the artist's financial crisis worsened and the house was sold.[3]
The style of the drawing is compatible with Rembrandt's in about 1656 or later, as is demonstrated by a comparison with his study for the frame of the 'Anatomy Lesson of Dr Deyman' (Benesch 1175, Amsterdam) of 1656. Although smaller in scale, the abbreviated heads and facial expressions are similarly conveyed; the raised arm of the standing woman on the left in the British Museum's drawing is rendered as a circle in the same way as Dr Deyman's and both studies employ passages of hatching made up of slanted and separated parallel lines. The 'Child being taught to walk' is somewhat more broadly handled and therefore possibly later. But a date c.1656 seems acceptable and is also within the period suggested by the inscription on the verso. Rembrandt's later drawings, such as the 'Simeon in the Temple' dated 1661 in the Heijblock album in the Royal Library, The Hague (Benesch 1057), are less closely related in the appearance of their penwork.

[1] Dated earlier by Benesch, but may be grouped with other sketches executed c.1639 in iron-gall ink (see under cat. no.25; 1910,0212.181, Benesch 242). Another drawing of the same subject in Amsterdam (Benesch 412) has been assigned to Rembrandt's pupil Carel Fabritius by Schatborn (see Amsterdam, 1985, no.65). In Rembrandt's etching of c.1646, the 'Walking Trainer' (Bartsch 194, Hind 222), which includes academic studies of the nude, a woman encourages a child learning to walk, prompting the suggestion that the print's iconography is concerned with education in general. See Emmens, 1964, p.154. There is no suggestion (or evidence) that Rembrandt envisaged such meanings for the drawings.
[2] In particular by Benesch, 1935, 1947 and 1957 (see Literature below).
[3] See Strauss and van der Meulen, 1979, p.610, who prefer a date c.1650-51 for the inscription. It has been argued that Rembrandt made the etching, the 'Goldweigher's Field' (Bartsch 234, Hind 249), which shows Thysz.'s Saxenburg estate near Haarlem, in 1651 in order to alleviate his burden of debt (Valentiner, 1951, pp.346-7; Regteren Altena, 1954, p.9; the latter thought the print concerned might rather be Bartsch 223, Hind 244).

LITERATURE (always as Rembrandt):
Hind, 1914-15, no.16, repr. recto and verso (before c.1658, when Thysz. died, if the inscription refers to Christoffel Thyssen to whom Rembrandt owed money on the purchase of his house in 1639; Rembrandt possibly arranging to pay off debts in pictures); London, 1915, no.81 (c.1650-58; otherwise as Hind, 1914-15); Benesch, 1925I, reprinted 1970, p.99 (compares 'Christ and Adulteress' and 'Lamentation', both Munich, Benesch 1047 and 1049, 'Taking of Christ', Stockholm, Benesch 1044, 'Christ and Woman with Issue of Blood', Vienna, Benesch 1052 and 'Studies for Liberation of St Peter', Dresden, Benesch 1062); Van Dyke, 1927, p.30 (by Rembrandt, but with reservations); Exh. Madrid, 1934, p.77, under no.1 (compares drawing in Madrid, Benesch 1162); Benesch, 1935, p.67 (c.1661; verso inscription earlier); Amsterdam, 1942, p.14, under no.32 and p.16, under no.36 (groups with late drawings, including 'Sheet of Studies' in Amsterdam, Benesch 1148); Benesch, 1947, p.29 and no.284, repr. (c.1660-62; argues for later dating than London, 1915 and that the drawing could postdate the inscription by several years); Valentiner, 1951, pp.346-7 (c.1650-52; inscription refers to Rembrandt's debt problems of this period; style and subject resemble Maes' drawings at this time); Exh. Rotterdam-Amsterdam, 1956, p.177, under no.248 (compares figures in background of 'Ark of Noah', Chicago, Benesch 1045); Benesch, 1957/73, no.1169, repr. fig.1390/1466 (c.1660-62; as Benesch, 1935; compares also 'Sheet of Studies with three Beggars', Berlin, Benesch 1141, 'Studies for Liberation of St Peter', Dresden, Benesch 1062, and 'St Peter at Tabitha's Death-Bed', Dresden, Benesch 1068); London, 1961, p.36, under no.197 (quoting Benesch); White, 1962, repr. pl.19; Munich, 1973, p.108, under no.768 (compares drawing in Munich by a follower of Maes, inv.1624, repr. pl.402, no.768); Sciolla, 1976, p.16 (very late); Strauss and van der Meulen, 1979, pp.610-11, repr. recto and verso (notes for a discussion with Thysz. to repay debts on house that probably occurred c.1650-51; refers to Valentiner, 1951); Vogel-Köhn, 1981, pp.13, 95 and 97, and no.99, repr. (c.1659-62; the last of Rembrandt's drawings of children; compares 'Woman taken in Adultery', Benesch 1047, and 'Study for Claudius Civilis', Benesch 1061, both Munich); Ornstein-van Slooten, 1982, p.14, repr. p.16, figs.6 and 6a (as London 1915); Amsterdam, 1985, p.142, under no.65 (compares drawings of same subject, one here cat. no.13 [1910,0212.187], another in the Institut Néerlandais, Benesch 391 and a school drawing in Amsterdam, Benesch 412, ascribed to Carel Fabritius); Alpers, 1988, p.112 and repr. fig.4.15 (explaining 'modern look' of Rembrandt's drawings); Schatborn, 1994, p.23; Crenshaw, 2002, pp.163 and 238; Rosand, 2002, pp.241-2, repr. fig.231; Hockney, 2004, p.54, repr. ('the best drawing ever made'); Weschler, 2005, p.52, repr. (reiterating Hockney, 2004); Berlin, 2006, p.165, under no.48, n.6, p.176, under no.51, n.9 and p.178, under no.52, n.10 (compares style of Berlin 'Slaughtered Ox', Benesch 1160; compares handwriting to that seen on Benesch 1186 and 1053); Schwartz, 2006, pp.115 and 132, repr. figs.229-30.

child (scope note | all objects)

Acquisition date

Acquisition name
Purchased from Colnaghi (biographical details | all objects)
Previous owner/ex-collection Hugh Miller (all objects)

Acquisition notes
Hugh Miller; purchased from Colnaghi, 1912. RK Notes: I am grateful to Colnaghi’s for the information that they acquired the drawing from a certain Hugh Miller. Their records for the drawing begin in 1911.

Exhibition History
London, 1912, no.165 (mentioning Rembrandt’s creditors and ‘Tijssen’);
1938, no.81 (c.1650-58);
1956, p.15, no.11;
1992, BM, 'Drawings by Rembrandt and his Circle', no.60, repr. in colour;
1999/00 Sep-Jan, Rembrandthuis, Amsterdam, 'Rembrandt's Treasures'.

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