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Rem­brandt van Rijn, Dutch, 1606-1669: Man with a Walking Stick Wearing a Fur Cap, c. 1648 

This sen­si­tive por­tray­al of an old man dressed for the cold and hold­ing a walk­ing staff is the only chalk draw­ing by Rem­brandt in the Peck Col­lec­tion. Like­ly drawn from direct obser­va­tion, it belongs to a larg­er group of stud­ies depict­ing the poor and elder­ly and reveals Rem­brandt’s abil­i­ty to cap­ture a per­son­’s char­ac­ter, in this instance tired yet res­olute, with very few lines. The study may have been used as a prepara­to­ry design for the artist’s famous etch­ing Christ Heal­ing the Sick (The Hun­dred Guilder Print) of around 1647 to 1648, which fea­tures a sim­i­lar figure.

In the late 1640s and early 1650s, Rem­brandt made a num­ber of black chalk fig­ure stud­ies depict­ing beg­gars, the itin­er­ant poor, elder­ly, and crip­pled, most of which appear to have been sketched from life amid the var­i­ous aggre­ga­tions of peo­ple on the streets of Ams­ter­dam.1

The Peck study is one of the most fully real­ized to sur­vive from this group of around forty works, not only in terms of its degree of fin­ish but also in what might be called Rembrandt’s sym­pa­thet­ic spir­it when close­ly observ­ing the human­i­ty around him. Rem­brandt effort­less­ly cap­tured the char­ac­ter and bear­ing of this man with a remark­able econ­o­my of line using broad swift strokes, only spar­ing­ly apply­ing the sharp point of the chalk for rein­force­ment along cer­tain edges. The result­ing image superbly bal­ances the cen­tral mass­ing of the man’s body against the weight he exerts on the walk­ing stick, tired but hold­ing strong.

As Holm Bev­ers noted, Rem­brandt appears to have reserved these black chalk fig­ure stud­ies for his own use, rather than cir­cu­lat­ing them among his stu­dio assis­tants and stu­dents.2

Many of these fig­ures recur in var­i­ous forms in some of Rem­brandt’s bib­li­cal and genre sub­jects from circa 1647 to 1652, which is one of the main ratio­nales for dat­ing draw­ings in this group to these years.3

Given the sim­i­lar­i­ty in size of a num­ber of sheets, he may have been work­ing from one or more portable sketch­books. Peter Schat­born recent­ly dated this par­tic­u­lar sheet toward the later side of this group, circa 1652, though it remains dif­fi­cult to order these black chalk stud­ies.4

There are good rea­sons to con­sid­er a slight­ly ear­li­er date. A cor­re­spond­ing fig­ure to the one seen here, though not adopt­ed lit­er­al­ly, is found in Rembrandt’s famous etch­ing from circa 1647 to 1648, Christ Heal­ing the Sick (The Hun­dred Guilder Print), in which the blind man stand­ing behind the wheel­bar­row holds a walk­ing stick and wears a sim­i­lar fur cap Fig. 24.1.5

Rembrandt, Christ Healing the Sick (The Hundred Guilder Print)
Fig. 24.1

Rem­brandt, Christ Heal­ing the Sick (The Hun­dred Guilder Print), c. 1647 – 48. Etch­ing and dry­point on paper, 280 × 394 mm. Ams­ter­dam, Rijksmu­se­um, inv. no. rp-p-ob-601.

Rem­brandt drew a num­ber of stud­ies in pen and ink that are clear­ly designs for this etching. 

One in the Lou­vre recasts the fig­ure as a blind man with a greater stoop, shown assist­ed by the woman hold­ing his arm, and depict­ed in reverse (as one would expect) in prepa­ra­tion for the print Fig. 24.2.6

Rembrandt, Blind Man Led by a Woman
Fig. 24.2

Rem­brandt, Blind Man Led by a Woman, c. 1647 – 48. Pen and ink on paper, 122 × 98 mm. Paris, Musée du Lou­vre, inv. no. 22891.

Schol­ar­ship remains divid­ed on whether the Peck draw­ing should also be con­sid­ered a prepara­to­ry study for Christ Heal­ing the Sick. Schat­born and Mar­tin Roy­al­ton-Kisch did not add this sheet to their core list” of Rembrandt’s draw­ings, that is, those that should be con­sid­ered indis­putably by Rem­brandt’s hand based on incon­tro­vert­ible cri­te­ria. By def­i­n­i­tion this includes all draw­ings prepara­to­ry for other works.7

Bev­ers, on the other hand, viewed this exclu­sion as a mis­take, since he regards this fig­ure as a study that Rem­brandt clear­ly referred to when com­plet­ing the etch­ing.8

The debate turns some­what on the seman­tics of the term prepara­to­ry. The Peck draw­ing obvi­ous­ly func­tions as an inde­pen­dent study, one that gives every appear­ance of hav­ing been made from life, and that serves in the sim­plest terms as a depic­tion of a man dressed for trav­el in cold weath­er. In that sense, it is com­plete­ly unre­lat­ed to the com­po­si­tion­al and nar­ra­tive aims of Christ Heal­ing the Sick. At the same time, it appears that Rem­brandt returned to this fig­ure at some point while work­ing on the print or while draw­ing the fig­ure in the Lou­vre study. While none of Rembrandt’s black chalk fig­ure stud­ies recur in their exact form in his fin­ished works, he indeed seems to have made reg­u­lar use of them, espe­cial­ly when it comes to issues of char­ac­ter and costuming.

The cloth­ing of non-natives such as the Ashke­nazi Jews from Poland who flood­ed into Ams­ter­dam at the time, many of whom set­tled in Rem­brandt’s neigh­bor­hood, were of great inter­est to the artist. He adopt­ed some of these fig­ures and their attire in his his­tor­i­cal and bib­li­cal works.9

While it is dif­fi­cult to posit a nation­al or cul­tur­al ori­gin for this par­tic­u­lar type of fur cap, it rarely recurs in Rem­brandt’s draw­ings, being found only in this sheet and in the afore­men­tioned Lou­vre study. It is like­ly that the Peck draw­ing proved use­ful for the fig­ure of the blind man in Christ Heal­ing the Sick, and that it was prob­a­bly made around the years 1647 – 48, a date range that Bev­ers con­sid­ers prob­a­ble for this group of black chalk fig­ure stud­ies as a whole.10

End Notes

  1. For this group of Rembrandt’s black chalk fig­ure stud­ies from mid-career, see Robin­son 1998; idem in Gnann & Widauer 2000, 303 – 06; Bev­ers 2006, 112 – 23; and Roy­al­ton-Kisch 2015. Some schol­ars find debat­able the issue of whether these stud­ies were drawn from life or not (e.g., Robin­son in Gnann & Widauer 2000, 303), but their small­er for­mat and sub­ject mat­ter sug­gest they once com­prised one or more sketch­books the artist used to record urban fig­ures direct­ly; see also Bev­ers 2006, 112.

  2. Bev­ers 2006, 113. Worth not­ing, how­ev­er, is that one of these black chalk fig­ure stud­ies long thought to be by Rem­brandt in the Kupfer­stichk­abi­nett, Berlin (Bev­ers 2006, no. 31) was revealed in 2012 to be a copy by a fol­low­er when the orig­i­nal turned up in an attic in Scot­land, now in a pri­vate col­lec­tion in Los Ange­les (Schat­born & Hin­ter­d­ing 2019, no. D396).

  3. See Robin­son 1998, 36. The only some­what firm anchor” in dat­ing this group is the Blind Beg­gar and His Fam­i­ly in the Ams­ter­dam Muse­um (Schat­born & Hin­ter­d­ing 2019, no. D389; and Broos 1981, no. 13) that bears a prepara­to­ry sketch on the verso for Rembrandt’s 1647 etch­ing Por­trait of Jan Six (Bartsch, no. 285; and NHD Rem­brandt, no. 238).

  4. Schat­born & Hin­ter­d­ing 2019, no. D427.

  5. Bartsch, no. 74; and NHD Rem­brandt, no. 239.

  6. Schat­born & Hin­ter­d­ing 2019, no. D92; and C. van Tuyll van Serooskerken in Paris 2006, no. 36.

  7. Roy­al­ton-Kisch & Schat­born 2011b. The only black chalk fig­ure study from this group that they includ­ed on this list is the afore­men­tioned Blind Beg­gar and His Fam­i­ly (see note 3 above); idem, no. 58.

  8. Bev­ers 2006, 112; and Bev­ers in New York 2016, 50, 64 – 65 (notes 39 – 40).

  9. See the dis­cus­sion by W. W. Robin­son in Lon­don, Paris & Cam­bridge 2002 – 03, 120 – 21, under no. 47.

  10. Bev­ers 2006, 112.