Tag Archives: etching

How a Rembrandt Self-Portrait Made Me a Curator


Rembrandt van Rijn, Self Portrait in a Velvet Cap with Plume, 1638, etching,  Bequest of Charles J. Rosenbloom

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, Self-Portrait in a Velvet Cap with Plume, 1638, etching, Bequest of Charles J. Rosenbloom

I fell in love with prints by accident. As a college student, I was interested in medieval art, or, more specifically Byzantine art, especially manuscripts. I needed a part-time job to help with my living expenses, and I applied to work as a research assistant at a New York art gallery that specialized in manuscripts and early printed books. Unbeknownst to me, the gallery also specialized in old master prints and drawings, which I managed to ignore during my first few months at the gallery. I was thoroughly immersed in the world of medieval saints and philosophy.

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Small Prints, Big Artists: Masterpieces from the Renaissance to Baroqueincluding several self-portraits by Rembrandt, is open through September 15.
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One day, I was alone in the gallery with the secretarial assistant. An elderly gentleman walked in with a paper bag under his arm. He took out a small framed print, black and white, very unassuming looking, and said, “They tell me this may be a Rembrandt.” I glanced at the print briefly. It was a portrait, a man in an elaborate feathered cap (shown above). And, with all the arrogant self-confidence of youth, I said, “No, I’m sorry, I don’t think so.” The man packed up his picture and left, disappointed.

Rembrandt van Rijn, Self-Portrait with Raised Sabre, 1634, etching with touches of burin, Bequest of Charles J. Rosenbloom, by exchange

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, Self-Portrait with Raised Sabre, 1634, etching with touches of burin, Bequest of Charles J. Rosenbloom, by exchange

A little while later, I thought to myself, “Maybe I should just check on this.” The gallery had a wonderful library (this was long before the internet). I pulled out a book on Rembrandt’s etchings, and….there it was. The print WAS an original Rembrandt—Self-Portrait in a Velvet Cap with Plume (1638)—an impression of which is in Carnegie Museum of Art’s collection. I would later learn that Rembrandt made about 30 self-portrait etchings, some very sketchy and slight, some elaborate (examples below), as well as some 50 paintings and a few drawings.

Three of Rembrandt’s other etched self-portraits are included in Small Prints, Big Artists: Masterpieces from the Renaissance to Baroque. In Self-Portrait with a Raised Sabre (above), the artist wears a fur cap and stole; in Self-Portrait with Saskia (below), he is sketching while looking into the mirror, as his new bride Saskia gazes at us in the background; and in Self-Portrait Leaning on a Stone Sill (below) he poses as a Renaissance courtier, in a velvet hat and opulent coat. The concept of the self-portrait as an exploration of one’s own psyche did not really exist in the 17th century. Most modern scholars believe that Rembrandt made the prints as models, or “tronies,” as they were then known. He was also producing works for sale and publicizing himself as an artist.

Rembrandt van Harmensz. Rijn, Self-Portrait with Saskia, 1636, etching, Bequest of Charles J. Rosenbloom

Rembrandt van Harmensz. Rijn, Self-Portrait with Saskia, 1636, etching, Bequest of Charles J. Rosenbloom

The experience at the art gallery and the unidentified print taught me a most valuable lesson. Never guess, never assume you know, always check to be certain. More importantly, I was embarrassed by how little I did know about prints, and curious to find out more. What followed was a wonderful adventure of learning—one artist at a time, one print at a time. I often wish I could thank the elderly gentleman for the lifetime of pleasure he gave me. I hope someone wiser than me identified his Rembrandt print as genuine!

Rembrandt van Rijn, Self-Portrait Leaning on a Stone Sill, 1639, etching, Bequest of Charles J. Rosenbloom

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, Self-Portrait Leaning on a Stone Sill, 1639, etching, Bequest of Charles J. Rosenbloom

Charles J. Rosenbloom: Devoted Supporter & Benefactor


Gerald L. Brockhurst, Portrait of Charles J. Rosenbloom, 1939, oil on canvas, Gift of the Estate of Charles J. Rosenbloom

Gerald L. Brockhurst, Portrait of Charles J. Rosenbloom, 1939, oil on canvas, Gift of the Estate of Charles J. Rosenbloom

Pittsburgher Charles J. Rosenbloom (1898–1973) was a lawyer, businessman, philanthropist, and passionate supporter of the state of Israel; he was also a music lover, bibliophile, and art collector of breadth, refinement, and taste. A staunch supporter of many Pittsburgh institutions, he was already a noted art collector when he began his official association with Carnegie Institute and its Fine Arts Department (later Carnegie Museum of Art), when he was elected trustee of the Carnegie Institute and member of the Fine Arts Committee in December 1939. He remained a devoted friend and benefactor of the museum throughout the rest of his life. In addition to his long service on the museum board, throughout the years he provided funds for a diverse group of acquisitions, gifted art from his collection, loaned works for important exhibitions, and, finally, hand-picked a large and important part of that collection as a bequest to the museum.

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Small Prints, Big Artists: Masterpieces from the Renaissance to Baroque opens Saturday, May 31, featuring many of the important artworks donated by Charles J. Rosenbloom.
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André Derain, Portrait of an Englishwoman, c. 1920, oil on canvas, Gift of Charles J. Rosenbloom

André Derain, Portrait of an Englishwoman, c. 1920, oil on canvas, Gift of Charles J. Rosenbloom

The diversity and quality of the works in the museum’s collection with a Rosenbloom connection is truly remarkable. His first gift was a painting by André Derain, Portrait of an Englishwoman, given in 1940, no doubt to mark his official affiliation with the museum. During his lifetime he gave about 250 works, ranging from Old Master works on paper; a rare volume of Goya’s Los Caprichos (The Caprices); Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works by Manet, Degas, Cézanne, Cassatt, Matisse, and van Gogh (whose etching The Man with the Pipe, Portrait of Dr. Gachet is the only work in this medium by the artist); and Japanese woodcut scrolls, including the 1939 series Kasenen (Katyayana) by Munakata Shikô.

Vincent van Gogh, The Man with the Pipe, Portrait of Dr. Gachet (L'homme à la pipe), 1890, etching on tan wove paper, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles J. Rosenbloom

Vincent van Gogh, The Man with the Pipe, Portrait of Dr. Gachet (L’homme à la pipe), 1890, etching on tan wove paper, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles J. Rosenbloom

Munakata Shikô (L): Ananda (Ananda), 1939, woodcut, scroll mounted, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles J. Rosenbloom; (R): Shûbodai (Subhuti), 1939, woodcut, scroll mounted, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles J. Rosenbloom

Munakata Shikô (L): Ananda (Ananda), 1939, woodcut, scroll mounted, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles J. Rosenbloom; (R): Shûbodai (Subhuti), 1939, woodcut, scroll mounted, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles J. Rosenbloom

While his lifetime gifts and his bequest, realized in 1974, include paintings, sculpture, and works on paper, it is the latter that were the core of his art collection. And in several areas, they have subsequently constituted the core of the museum’s collection. His bequest of prints by three of the greatest print masters—Dürer, Rembrandt, and Whistler—is illustrative. They total about 150 works (about half of the entire bequest, with more than 50 each by Dürer and Rembrandt and nearly the same number by Whistler). Among them are some of the most famous images in the genre: Dürer’s Adam and Eve (1504, in a spectacular impression), Rembrandt’s The Three Trees (1643) and The Agony in the Garden (c. 1659), and Whistler’s Nocturne from the First Venice Set (1879–80).

Albrecht Dürer, Adam and Eve, 1504, engraving, Bequest of Charles J. Rosenbloom

Albrecht Dürer, Adam and Eve, 1504, engraving, Bequest of Charles J. Rosenbloom

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Three Trees, 1643, etching, drypoint and burin, Bequest of Charles J. Rosenbloom

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Three Trees, 1643, etching, drypoint and burin, Bequest of Charles J. Rosenbloom

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Agony in the Garden, c. 1659, etching and drypoint, Bequest of Charles J. Rosenbloom

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Agony in the Garden, c. 1659, etching and drypoint, Bequest of Charles J. Rosenbloom

It should be pointed out that several other institutions have benefited from Rosenbloom’s service, financial support, and eventual generosity. In addition to gifts made during his lifetime, he bequeathed the main part of his important collection of rare books, manuscripts, and musical scores, including many first and early editions, to libraries at Yale and Carnegie Mellon University. As was his custom, the list of the items for each institution was carefully and personally selected by the benefactor himself. The same was true for his art collection. In numbers, he divided it chiefly and nearly equally between Carnegie Museum of Art and the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. However, the individual works destined for each institution were selected carefully: they represent not only an attempt to divide the collection based on the respective needs of each institution but also a sophisticated collector’s personal considerations. For example, as a rule, Rembrandt’s prints with Jewish and Old Testament subjects were given to the Israel Museum while those designated for the Carnegie showcased a broad and comprehensive representation of the artist’s work in the medium.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Nocturne, 1879-1880, etching and drypoint, printed in dark brown ink on laid paper, Bequest of Charles J. Rosenbloom

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Nocturne, 1879-1880, etching and drypoint, printed in dark brown ink on laid paper, Bequest of Charles J. Rosenbloom

Prints from the Rosenbloom collection have been showcased in many exhibitions at Carnegie Museum of Art over the last 75 years, beginning with a 1938 loan exhibition of his early acquisitions. It is fitting that in this 40th anniversary year of his important bequest to the museum, they are again an integral part of the upcoming exhibition Small Prints, Big Artists: Masterpieces from the Renaissance to Baroque.