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When he entered his studio he
opened the door slowly, sat down with great deliberation, and then
remained motionless until the least sign of agitation produced by the
exercise had ceased. Then he began to paint, using concave glasses to
reduce the objects in size. This continual effort ended by injuring his
sight, so that he was obliged to work with spectacles. Nevertheless, his
coloring never became weakened or less vigorous, and his pictures are
equally strong whether one looks at them near by or far off. They have
been very justly compared to natural scenes reduced in photographs. Dou
was one of the many disciples of Rembrandt who divided the inheritance of
his genius. From his master he learned finish and the art of imitating
light, especially the effects of candle-light and of lamps. Indeed, as we
shall see in the Amsterdam Gallery, he equalled Rembrandt in these
respects. He possessed the rare merit among the painters of his school in
that he took no pleasure in painting ugliness and trivial subjects.

In the gallery at the Hague home-life is represented by Dou, by
Adriaen van Ostade, by Steen, and by Van Mieris the elder.

Van Ostade--called the Rembrandt of home-life, because he imitated the
great master in his powerful effects of chiaroscuro, of delicate
shading, of transparency in shadows, of rich coloring--is represented
by two small pictures which depict the inside and outside of a rustic
house. Both are full of poetry, notwithstanding the triviality of the
subjects which he has chosen in common with other painters of his
school. But he has this peculiarity, that the remarkably ugly girls in
his pictures are taken from his own family, which, according to
tradition, was a group of little monstrosities, whom he held up to the
ridicule of the world. Thus nearly all the Dutch painters chose to
paint the least handsome of the women whom they saw, as if they had
agreed to throw discredit on the feminine type of their country.
Rembrandt's "Susanna," to cite a subject which of all others required
beauty, is an ugly Dutch servant, and the women painted by Steen,
Brouwer, and others are not worth mentioning. And yet, as we have
seen, models of noble and gracious beauty were not wanting among them.

There are three fine paintings by Frans van Mieris the elder, the
first disciple of Dou, and as finished and minute a painter as his
master. He together with Metsu and Terburg, two artists eminent for
finish and coloring, belonged to that group of painters of home-life
who chose their subjects from the higher classes of society. One of
these canvases portrays the artist with his wife.

Among other paintings, Steen is represented by his favorite subject, a
doctor feeling the pulse of a lovesick girl in the presence of her
duenna. It is an admirable study of expression, of piquant, roguish
smiles. The doctor's face seems to say, "I think I understand;" the
invalid's, "Something more than your prescriptions are needed;" the
duenna's, "I know what she wants." Other pictures of home-life by
Schaleken, Tilborch, Netscher, William van Mieris represent kitchens,
shops, dinners, and the families of the artists.

Landscape and marine painting are represented by beautiful gems from
the hands of Ruysdael, Berghem, Van de Velde, Van der Neer, Bakhuisen,
and Everdingen. There are also a large number of works by Philips
Wouverman, the painter of horses and battle-pieces.

There are two pictures by Van Huysum, the great flower-painter, who
was born at a time when Holland was possessed with a mad love of
flowers and cultivated the most beautiful flowers in Europe. He
celebrated this passion with his brush and created it afresh in his
pictures. No one else has so marvellously rendered the infinite
shades, the freshness, the transparency, the softness, the grace, the
modesty, the languor, the thousand hidden beauties, all the
appearances of the noble and delicate life of the pearl of vegetation,
of the darling of nature, the flower. The Hollanders brought to him
all the miracles of their gardens that he might copy them; kings asked
him for flowers; his pictures were sold for sums that in those days
were fabulous. Jealous of his wife and his art, he worked alone,
unseen by his fellow-artists, lest they should discover the secret of
his coloring. Thus he lived and died, glorious and melancholy, in the
midst of petals and fragrance.

But the greatest work in the gallery is the celebrated "Lesson in
Anatomy" by Rembrandt.

This picture was inspired by a feeling of gratitude to Doctor Tulp,
Professor of Anatomy at Amsterdam, who protected Rembrandt in his
youth. Rembrandt portrays Tulp and his pupils grouped round a table on
which is stretched a naked corpse, whose arm has been dissected by the
anatomist's knife. The professor, who wears his hat, stands pointing
out the muscles of the arm with his scissors, and explaining them to
his pupils. Some of the scholars are seated, others stand, others lean
over the body. The light coming from left to right illuminates their
faces and a part of the dead man, leaving their garments, the table,
and the walls of the room in obscurity. The figures are life-size.

It is difficult to describe the effect produced by this picture. The
first sensation is a feeling of horror and disgust of the corpse. Its
forehead is in shadow, its open eyes are turned upward, its mouth half
shut as if in amazement; the chest is swollen, its legs and feet are
rigid, the flesh is livid and looks as if it would be cold to the
touch. In great contrast to this stiffened corpse are the living
attitudes of the students, the youthful faces, the bright eyes, intent
and full of thought, revealing, in different degrees, eagerness to
learn, the joy of comprehension, curiosity, astonishment, the effort
of the intellect, the activity of the mind. The face of the master is
calm, his eye is serene, and his lips seem smiling with the
satisfaction of intimate knowledge of his subject. The whole group is
surrounded by an air of gravity, mystery, and scientific solemnity
which imposes reverence and silence. The contrast between the light
and shade is as marvellous as that between death and life. Everything
is painted with infinite pains; it is possible to count the little
folds of the ruff, the wrinkles in the face, the hairs of the beard.
It is said that the foreshortening of the corpse is incorrect, and
that in some places the finish degenerates into hardness, but
universal approval places the "Lesson in Anatomy" among the greatest
works of art in the world.

Rembrandt was only twenty-six years old when he painted this picture,
which consequently has the mark of his early work. The impetuosity,
audacity, and unequalled assurance of his genius, which shine forth in
his maturer works, are not yet seen, but his immense power of painting
light, his marvellous chiaroscuro, his fascinating magic of contrast,
the most original features of his genius, are all to be found here.

However little we may know about art, and however much we may have
resolved not to sin by excess of enthusiasm, when we come face to face
with Rembrandt van Rijn, we cannot help opening the flood-gates of
language, as the Spanish say. Rembrandt exerts an especial fascination.
Fra Angelico is a saint, Michelangelo is a giant, Raphael is an angel,
Titian a prince, Rembrandt is a spectre. What else can this miller's son
be called? Born in a windmill, he arose unexpectedly without a master,
without example, without any instruction from the schools, to become a
universal painter, who depicted life in every aspect, who painted figures,
landscapes, sea-pieces, animals, saints, patriarchs, heroes, monks, riches
and poverty, deformity, decrepitude, the ghetto, taverns, hospitals, and
death; who in short, reviewed heaven and earth, and enveloped everything
in a light so mysterious that it seems to have issued from his brain. His
work is at the same time grand and minute. He is at once an idealist and a
realist, a painter and an engraver, who transforms everything and conceals
nothing--who changes men into phantoms, the most ordinary scenes of life
into mysterious apparitions; I had almost said who changes this world into
another that does not seem to be and yet is the same. Whence has he drawn
that undefinable light, those flashes of electric rays, those reflections
of unknown stars that like an enigma fill us with wonder? What did this
dreamer, this visionary, see in the dark? What is the secret that
tormented his soul? What did this painter of the air mean to tell us in
this eternal conflict of light and shadow? It is said that the contrasts
of light and shade corresponded in him to moods of thought. And truly it
seems that as Schiller, before beginning a work, felt within himself an
indistinct harmony of sounds which were a prelude to his inspiration, so
also Rembrandt, when about to paint a picture, beheld a vision of rays and
shadows which had some meaning to him before he animated them with his
figures. In his paintings there is a life, a dramatic action, quite
distinct from that of human figures. Flashes of brilliant light break
across a sombre surface like cries of joy; the frightened darkness flies
away, leaving here and there a melancholy twilight, trembling reflections
that seem to be lamenting, profound obscurity gloomy and threatening,
flashes of dancing sunlight, ambiguous shadows, shadows uncertain and
transparent, questionings and sighs, words of a supernatural language like
music heard but not understood, which remains in the memory like a dream.
Into this atmosphere he plunged his figures, some of them enveloped by the
garish light of a theatrical apotheosis, others veiled like ghosts, others
revealed by a single ray of light darting across their faces. Whether they
be clothed with pomp or in rags, they all are alike strange and fantastic.
The outlines are not clear; the figures are loaded with powerful colors,
and are painted with such bold strokes of the brush that they stand out in
sculpturesque relief, while over all is an expression of impetuosity and
of inspiration, that proud, capricious, profound imprint of genius that
knows neither restraint nor fear.

After all, every one likes to give his opinion: but who knows, if
Rembrandt could read all the pages that have been written to explain
the secret meanings of his art, whether he would not burst out
laughing?



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