Rembrandt bought a house on Jodenbreestraat in Amsterdam in 1639 and lived there until he went bankrupt in 1656 and lost everything. There is a debate over whether Rembrandt’s lavish taste caused his financial problems or whether he was a victim of a shift in the art market.
Rembrandt made his fortune as a portrait painter (and-this was a surprise to me-an art dealer!) Prior to Rembrandt’s time, only the nobility could afford to sit for portraits. But social, technological and economic changes changed that. By the early the 17th century, the social fabric that had carried Europe through the last 1000 years was starting to fray at the edges. Holland was a Protestant country where to profit by one’s hard work was considered a virtue. Amsterdam was a commercial town with a wealthy merchant class. Then as now, the existence of a group of people with disposable income was good for business and a boon for artists. Rembrandt did so well that he was able to buy his grand house on Jodenbreestraatin. The house is still there and it’s open to the public
Rembrandt Huis was a must-see for me because I have always loved his work. Rembrandt’s paintings make an impression on the viewer because they do more than reproduce people and scenes in pictures: the tell stories. When you look at one of his Biblical paintings, or example, you think about the people in it and what they must be doing and thinking. They look like they are engaged in something rather assuming poses for a painting. Their engagement, in turn, engages us because on a fundamental level, we humans are story telling beings.
Rembrandt is also known as the master of light and his skills were unmatched. He could make the paint look like lace, gold, sunlight, or gossamer layered fabric. He did not use gold paint, but he could paint gold so convincingly that it is hard to believe he did not use gold in his paint.
Rembrandt was an art dealer as well as an artist, and sold the work of other artists that he displayed in a showroom in the main room of his house.
He also ran an art school on the top floor of his house and taught several students at a time.
Rembrandt had a well-stocked room full of costumes and props that he used in his paintings. Some say that he was more of a shopaholic, buying anything that caught his fancy. His profligate collecting did not do his pocketbook any good and when he was forced to declare bankruptcy, all his belongings and his house were sold at auction to cover his debts.
I learned about how Rembrandt’s paints were mixed when I went to the Rembrandt Huis this past summer. I made a short film in which a docent explains how it was done. I hope you enjoy it. Be sure to visit Rembrandt Huis if you are ever in Amsterdam.