Dimensions: 210 x 210
You can view the entire catalogue online here for free by clicking on view sample pages, but we would be delighted if you would like to purchase a hardcopy.
Amid the bewildering paraphernalia of an etching studio, nestled amongst burins, needles, rollers, cans of oil, varnish, beeswax, rags, scrim, an endless array of powders, rosins, and more rags, the plate occupies an almost sacred place. It is a precious cradle for alchemy: the gleaming focus of a room orchestrated entirely towards the transformation of its polished surface via methods steeped in hard-won knowledge and executed with extraordinary skill.
Rembrandt favoured copper plates – thin, cold-hammered, expensive copper plates that he cherished with the ‘love of a miser’*. He burnished, scraped, scratched and bathed these plates in acid in a way that nobody had done before and created a body of prints that remains unrivalled to this day. In doing so, he elevated the craft of etching to an art form. Despite his success, Rembrandt was forced to declare himself bankrupt in 1656 and his house and possessions were put up for auction. Fortunately, he was able to conceal his treasured plates from the sale (the weight of copper would have commanded a high price as scrap) and for a time their whereabouts were unknown. A century or so after Rembrandt’s death they found their way into the possession of Claude-Henri Watelet, a Parisian dealer and highly skilled etcher who pulled the first significant posthumous impressions from these original copper plates.
To a large degree, it is via such printings that Rembrandt’s extraordinary legacy as a printmaker was secured, enriched and propagated to a wider audience. In 1786, another Parisian printer and publisher, Pierre-Françoise Basan acquired 80 etching plates from the Watelet estate and published his own edition. The so-called ‘Basan Recueil’ (‘recueil’ translates as ‘collection’) was first published in 1789 and constituted a landmark, not only in the history of Rembrandt scholarship, but also in the academic study of art. For the first time, a volume containing an overview of Rembrandt’s work, printed from his own plates, was available to the collecting public. After Basan’s death in 1797, his son Henri Louis Basan inherited the plates and published his own collection of Rembrandt etchings in 1807/8. The H.L. Basan Edition is noted for the richness of impression and is highly sought after. It is very rarely available to purchase.
It is half a decade since we were last able to display a collection of Rembrandt prints of comparable quality in the gallery. Regular visitors will be aware that, when possible, we like to complement our programme of shows by contemporary artists with offerings of masterworks by major artists from the printmaking tradition. Rembrandt has joined Picasso, Goya, Chagall, Matisse, Miró, Dürer and Samuel Palmer on the gallery walls in recent years, and conducting an ongoing dialogue between contemporary art and the tradition that it comes from is central to what we do. We have found that Rembrandt has much to say to us, and those who have been listening most closely are the etchers that we have the pleasure of working with as they make their own contribution to this story of print. Their words over the following pages are a testament to Rembrandt’s enduring, telling and vital influence. It is a profound legacy and we are privileged to be able to share such masterful evidence of it – printed from his original copper plates - with you this winter.
Vincent Eames, January 2022