An elephant; standing to r, a few spectators at r background. c1637 Black chalk and charcoal


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Department: Prints & Drawings

Registration number: Gg,2.259

Bibliographic reference
Royalton-Kisch 2010 19 (Rembrandt)
Hind 1915-31 43
Benesch 1973 459

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)
1637 (circa)
Schools /Styles
Dutch (scope note | all objects)

An Asian elephant; standing to right, a few spectators at right background. c.1637
Black chalk and charcoal
Verso: see Inscriptions.
Watermark: posthorn in shield, the letters 'P.B.' below (see Laurentius catalogue, p.252, no.611, dated 1642).

Inscription Content: Verso inscribed in graphite, lower left: 'Rembrand' and centre: 'Veritable Dessein de Rembrandt.'.

Height: 179 millimetres
Width: 256 millimetres (chain lines horizontal, 22mm apart)

Good, though the sheet is spotted with stains; possibly trimmed below and to right.

Curator's comments
This is probably a representation of the (Asian) elephant called 'Hansken' which arrived in Amsterdam in 1633 on a ship from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) as a gift for the Prince of Orange. The animal was kept in Frederik Hendrik's palace in Rijswijk and in 1636 it was given to the stadtholder's cousin Johan Maurits who sold it that same year to a private person who taught the animal thirty-six tricks. From 1637 'Hansken' left the Netherlands on a journey through Germany and Denmark and Rembrandt may have seen the animal in Amsterdam before the shipping. The elephant is shown in front of three figures, illustrating its size. Another drawing of the same elephant dated 1637 is in the Albertina, Vienna. The elephant returned to Amsterdam in 1641 and was drawn again by Rembrandt in different poses between 1644 and 1646; the animal now looking older. The animal toured in France (1642-1646), Germany and Switzerland (1646-1647, 1649-1652) and died in Florence in 1654 (possibly drawn by Stefano di Bella, drawing now in Biblioteca Reale, Turin).
For a pamphlet advertising Hansken's tricks see 1862,1011.549. For the etching by Herman Saftleven dated 1646, depicting 'Hansken' looking older , see S.980. For German broadsides see also 1880,0710.514-515. For the stipple engraving by William Baillie see 1870,0813.648.

Entry from Martin Royalton-Kisch, 'Catalogue of drawings by Rembrandt and his school', 2010, Rembrandt, cat. no.19:
One of four known black chalk drawings of female, Indian elephants by Rembrandt. They were possibly all made in c.1637, when the sheet in Vienna (Benesch 457) was signed and dated. Another study in Vienna (Benesch 458) shows a group of three elephants. The fourth drawing (Benesch 460, Pierpont Morgan Library, New York) is an offset of a now lost sketch.[1]
In 1638, as has often been noted, Rembrandt included an elephant in the background of his etching of 'Adam and Eve' (Bartsch 28, Hind 159).[2] This may show the same animal in a different pose. Attempts have been made to identify the elephant as 'Hansken' (who despite the name may have been female), known to have been in Holland by 1641.[3]
The use of charcoal, employed to strengthen the darkest shadows, is unusual in Rembrandt's drawings. He employed it for two studies of lionesses in the Museum (see cat. nos.29-30) and for a landscape sketch now in Rotterdam (Benesch 813). These are all usually dated to the 1640s.[4] It may be that the present drawing also dates from the animal's presence in the Netherlands in 1641, as it differs in style from Rembrandt's other three drawings of elephants. The watermark also hints in this direction (see under Description above).
A reproduction of the drawing, in reverse, was 'Engraved by Cap:t Baillie from a Drawing by Rembrandt: Aug. ye 1, 1778'. Baillie did not record the whereabouts of the drawing at the time but it may already have been in Barnard's collection.[5]

[1] As noted by Benesch, I, 1954, no.460. Michel, 1893, followed by Hofstede de Groot, 1906, under no.948, mentioned a further drawing of an elephant in the Salting collection, perhaps in error. Hofstede de Groot's catalogue of Salting's collection (his nos.1115 -1130) does not list it, nor was such a drawing included in Salting's bequest to the British Museum in 1910.
[2] The connection first made by Michel, 1893 (see Lit. below).
[3] See Vosmaer, 1868, p.460, Exh. Amsterdam, 1969, no.45 and Broos, 1982, p.247, n.13; the identification was already doubted by Schatborn, 1977 (see Lit. below), though supported by Slatkes, 1980, pp.7-13. The absence, or at least near invisibility of tusks in the British Museum's drawing rather counts against the identification, as they can be seen clearly in contemporary prints of the animal. Yet the prints may reflect earlier images rather than Hansken itself. One of the Albertina's drawings (Benesch 458), shows three elephants together, but may perhaps represent the same animal repeated three times (Hansken seems to have travelled alone). Schatborn, in Exh. Berlin-Amsterdam-London, 1991-2I, p.58, points out that the same elephant could have been the one depicted in Herman Saftleven's etching of 1646 (Hollstein 40). See also n.4 below.
[4] The Rotterdam drawing is placed c.1652 by Giltaij in Rotterdam, 1988, no.20, but an earlier date seems more likely (see Royalton-Kisch, 1990, p.135). On balance it seems preferable to adhere to the date c.1637 for the present sheet on the basis of the Vienna drawing. Yet the use of charcoal might point to the early 1640s. White, 1903, p.357 (quoting Michel), noted that a letter of 23 November, 1641, written by Caspar van Baerle, mentions an elephant and onlookers in Amsterdam. She also noted that Evelyn, who was in Holland from July to October, 1641, described a female elephant in Rotterdam, one without substantial tusks: 'its teeth were but short, being a female, and not old'. More recently the biography of Hansken (b. Ceylon 1630, d. Florence 1655) has been elaborated by Roscam Abbing and Tuynman, 2006, who date the drawing to 1637-8 but note that Hansken was in Amsterdam again in October 1641.
[5] There is an etching after the drawing by the Australian artist John Farmer.

LITERATURE (always as Rembrandt, if a date suggested, c.1637 unless otherwise stated):
Bürger, 1858, p.395; Blanc, II, 1861, p.454; Vosmaer, 1868, p.460, (c.1641; perhaps of Hansken); Vosmaer, 1877, pp.217, 525 and 606; Dutuit, IV, 1885, p.86 (as Vosmaer, 1868); Michel, 1893, p.276, n.1, and p.582, repr. opp. p.275 (refers only to Vienna and Salting collections - the latter perhaps in error, see n.1 above - and compares etching of 'Adam and Eve', Bartsch 28, Hind 159); Seidlitz, 1894, p.121; Seidlitz, 1895/1922, p.41/102, under no.28 (relates to Benesch 457 in Vienna [in 2nd ed. noting the other sheets also] and to 'Adam and Eve' etching); Lippmann, I, no.118; Kleinmann, III, no.46; White, 1903, p.357 (quotes Vosmaer and Michel; of Hansken; see n.4 above); Bell, c.1905, repr. pl.XL; Valentiner, 1905, p.156 (notes both Vienna sheets, Benesch 457-8 and elephant in 'Adam and Eve' etching); Hofstede de Groot, 1906, no.948 (c.1637-8; notes two Vienna versions and that now in New York, Benesch 460; see also n.1 above); Michel, 1906, repr. opp. p.66; Baldwin Brown, 1907, pp.115 -6 and 174, repr. pl.17; Wurzbach, 1910, p.418; Hind, 1912/24, under no.159; London, 1915, no.43; Neumann, 1918[I], p.12 and no.19, repr.; Kauffmann, 1920, p.54 (see n.4 above); Weisbach, 1926, p.25-6 (dates all sheets 1639 on basis of erroneous reading of date on Benesch 457); Byam Shaw, 1928, p.31 (comparing Getty 'Cleopatra', Benesch 137); Benesch, 1935, p.28; Wichmann, 1939, no.31, repr. (c.1637-8); Schinnerer, 1944, no.32, repr.; Benesch, 1947, p.24, under no.83; Hamann, 1948, pp.147 and 151, repr. fig.108 (c.1638); Benesch, II, 1954/73, no.459, repr. fig.517/548; Benesch, 1960, p.148, under no.27; White, 1962, repr. pl.26; Slive, 1965, no.120, repr.; White, 1969, I, p.42 (relates to 'Adam and Eve' etching in a general way); Exh. Vienna, 1969-70, under nos.12-13; Exh. Vienna, 1970-71, p.71, under no.113; Rawson, 1977, p.132, repr. fig.179; Schatborn, 1977, no.22, repr.; Slatkes, 1980, p.8 (depicts 'Hansken'); Amsterdam, 1981, p.41, under no.6, n.5; Exh. Berlin-Amsterdam-London, 1991-2[I], p.58 (see n.3 above; discusses Rembrandt's drawings of elephants); Bakker, 1994, p.27, repr. fig.32; Giltaij, 1995, p.98 (not charcoal – misquoting Exh. London, 1992); M. Roscam Abbing and Tuynman 2006, p.174, repr. fig.12 (see n.4 above); M. Roscam Abbing, 'Rembrandt's Elephant: The Story of Hansken', Amsterdam, 2006; E. Héran (ed.), 'Beauté Animale', exh.cat. Grand Palais Paris, 2012, cat.no.82, fig.151; I. Seligman, 'Lines of Thought', London, 2016, no. 27, p. 66.

elephant (all objects)

Acquisition date

Acquisition name
Bequeathed by Clayton Mordaunt Cracherode (biographical details | all objects)
Previous owner/ex-collection John Barnard (L.1419) (biographical details | all objects)

Acquisition notes
John Barnard (verso); his sale, Greenwood, 3rd day, 19 February, 1787, lot 39 (stated to be the drawing engraved by Baillie), sold for £2-12-6 with one other (a ‘Historical subject by S. de Koning’); bequeathed by the Rev. C. M. Cracherode (who, according to the register, acquired it in 1787) in 1799.

Exhibition History

1891, London, BM, 'Exhibition of Drawings and Sketches', no.114;
1899, London, BM, no.A17;
1938, London, BM, no.43;
1956, London, BM, p.9, no.3;
1969, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, no.45 and p.217, under no.107 (chalk used for elephant skin texture, while Rembrandt usually drew lions with the pen; see also n.3 below);
1972-3, London, BM, no.230;
1977-8, London, BM (no catalogue but see Rawson, 1977, under Comment and Lit.);
1984[I], Master Drawings & Watercolours, no.94, repr.;
1987 Feb-May, BM, An A-Z of P&D (no cat);
1987, London, Victoria and Albert Museum, no.127A, repr. (with Baillie print);
1992, London, BM, 'Drawings by Rembrandt and his Circle', no.18, repr. in colour;
2004, Sheffield, The Millennium Galleries, ('The Biggest Draw');
2006, London, BM, ('Rembrandt: a 400th anniversary display'; no. catalogue).
2012 March-July, Paris, Grand Palais, La Beauté animale
2016 3 Sep - 6 Nov, Poole Museum, 'Lines of thought: Drawing from Michelangelo to now', no. 27
2017 1 Jan - 25 Feb, The Brynmor Jones Library Art Gallery, University of Hull, 'Lines of thought: Drawing from Michelangelo to now', no. 27
2017 12 Mar - 5 May, Ulster Museum, Belfast, 'Lines of thought: Drawing from Michelangelo to now', no. 27

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