Canal and boats with a distant view of Amsterdam



Leiden 1606 – 1669 Amsterdam

Canal and boats with a distant view of Amsterdam  (c. 1655)

Reed pen and brush in dark brown (iron-gall) ink; dark brown ink framing lines.

103 x 203 mm.


fool’s cap with collar of seven bells: similar to Ash and Fletcher 1998, variant D.b., pp. 112, 118 (c. 1654); Heawood no. 1990 (dated 1655); Kettering 1988, nos. Gs20, p. 790, Gs22, p. 791 and H214, p. 793 (all documented to 1655).

vertical, 25-27 mm.

verso, test strokes of reed pen (dark brown iron-gall ink that has bled partially through, autograph?).


Municipal Library, Mainz.

Städtische Gemäldegalerie, Mainz, accessioned 1892, deaccessioned 1938.Gilhofer, Lucerne, Switzerland.

  1. Gilhofer, Lucerne, Switzerland.

Edwin Alfred Seasongood, New York.

Robert M. Light, Santa Barbara.

British Rail Pension Fund, London, 1977.

Sale, New York, Sotheby’s, 29 Jan 1997, lot 49, acquired at the sale.


Stift und Feder, Zeichnungen von Künstlern aller Zeiten und Länder in Nachbildungen, 1930, no. 4 (January 1931), Supplement, pl. 93.

Benesch, Otto. Rembrandt, Werk und Forschung, Vienna, 1935, p. 57.

Benesch, Otto. The Drawings of Rembrandt, London, 1954-7, Vol. VI, no. 1349, fig. 1583 and London/ New York, 1973, Vol. VI, no. 1349, fig. 1662.

Royalton-Kisch, Martin. A landscape watercolour by Rembrandt?  The use of watercolor in Rembrandt’s circle in Amsterdam, Apollo, vol. 133, no. 347 (New Series), January 1991, pp. 16-8, fig. 13 (as Rembrandt).


Frankfurt, Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Rembrandt-Austellung, 1926, no. 368a.

Austin, Texas, Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery, Seventeenth-Century Dutch Landscape Drawings, 1981-2, no. 13, illus., p. 16.

Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Ackland Art Museum; Ithaca, New York, Johnson Museum of Art; Worcester, Massachusetts, Worcester Art Museum, Fresh Woods and Pastures New: Seventeenth-Century Dutch Landscape Drawings from the Peck Collection, 1999-2001, no. 22, illus., pp.76-9.

PeckSheldonRembrandt Drawings: Twenty-five Years in the Peck Collection. Boston, Perho Documenta, 2003. Published catalogue.

Robinson, Franklin W. and Peck, Sheldon. Fresh Woods and Pastures New: Seventeenth-Century Dutch Landscape Drawings from the Peck Collection. Chapel Hill/ Ithaca/ Worcester. 1999-2001. Published catalogue.

From 1641, Rembrandt, in effect, discovers the Dutch landscape around him and creates a series of prints, paintings, and drawings that capture the famous sites and skylines of Amsterdam and other cities and also the backyards, the modest farms, fields, and canals in the countryside.  In the 1650s, in particular, Rembrandt tries to get away from pure line in his graphic work, using more wash and black chalk in his drawings and, in his prints, experimenting with pure drypoint.

Especially impressive in this exceptional drawing is the definition of space.  The boats, laid end to end, one on land and one in the water, define the foreground in pen and dark brown ink. (Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann and Jan Peeters suggest that two boats are in the water, one partially hidden behind the other and with a smaller mast.)  Touches of “dry pen” strokes are seen on the side of the boat on the left and on the zwaard,  the balance panel on the boat in water, an effective way of defining a plane.  The background is defined by an extraordinary horizon line of forms in pure wash, in brown, parallel to the boats, while the canal, perpendicular to both, goes straight back, then winds to the left, connecting the two.  The mast set against the canal, horizon, and sky becomes a particularly dramatic accent.  The dramatic contrast in focus between the foreground and the background is a good illustration of what has been called Rembrandt’s “naturally selective vision” (see Catalogue, New York/ Fort Worth 1995, no. 38).

This type of composition, emphasizing the flatness of the Dutch countryside and receding straight back from the foreground (instead of from one side or the other), is typical of Rembrandt in the 1650s, for example, in his prints, The Goldweigher’s Field, dated 1651 (Bartsch 234), and the Canal with a large Boat and Bridge, dated 1650 (Bartsch 236).  The wash, which is handled with such delicacy along the edges of the canal and so dramatically in the background, is also typical of Rembrandt in this decade, in landscape drawings in the Louvre (Benesch 1351, see Figure 9a) and elsewhere, as is this view “behind the scenes,” as it were, away from the hustle and bustle of a working farm, empty of people.  In this sense, the drawing seems closer in technique and atmosphere to Claude Lorrain than to any of Rembrandt’s Dutch contemporaries.

Jan Peeters and Boudewijn Bakker of the Amsterdam Municipal Archives have studied the distant townscape seen in this Rembrandt drawing.  They identify it as a vignette or capriccio of Amsterdam, a view from the yard of an outlying dairy farm towards the narrow canal as it flows to the town.  The linear and angular washes at the horizon appear to render brilliantly a series of farm buildings in the right middleground and dykes paralleling the distant course of the waterway on both sides and ultimately converging.  They believe that the foreground, including the boats and the section of fence at the left, might have been drawn from nature.

Robert Putman has pointed out that these flat-bowed canal boats were used for transporting cattle and hay or peat, and often had a mast, as here.

On the verso (Figure 9b) are calligraphic practice loops, in reed pen, possibly by the artist, cut off by the edges of the paper; this shows that the sheet was originally larger, and reminds us that in the late 1650s Rembrandt did two etched portraits of Lieven van Coppenol, the writing-master.

— Franklin W. Robinson