A seated old man warming his hands by a fire



Leiden 1606 – 1669 Amsterdam

A seated old man warming his hands by a fire  (c. 1650)

quill and reed pens in brown ink, and dry brush, and corrections in white (oxidized) around the figure’s hands; brown ink framing lines at top, bottom and left, and black ink framing line at right.

151 x 175 mm.

vertical; |21|21|24|24|24|24|25| mm.

recto, at lower right, faint traces R. V. R…n (graphite, later hand).


Nathaniel Hone, 1718-1784, (Lugt 2793), his sale, London, Hutchins, 7-15 February 1785.
1958 D. Colnaghi & Co., London, 1958.
Sale, New York, Sotheby’s, 26 January 2000, lot 27, acquired at the sale.


Benesch, Otto. Rembrandt as a Draughtsman. London, 1960, no. 58, fig. 58.

Benesch, Otto. The Drawings of Rembrandt. London, 1973, Vol. V, no. 1153A, fig.1450.


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

A well preserved study of a single figure, exemplary for its relatively large scale and completeness, this drawing was created by Rembrandt at the beginning of the 1650s.  The subject is in a small chair, leaning forward to warm his hands at a fireplace.  Obviously cold, the man is dressed in a long coat and appears to be wearing heavy stockings and slippers.

Rembrandt decided to change the position of his subject’s hands, after he drew them low, parallel to his lap, facing the fire.  The master wanted the arms and hands a little higher, so he applied a lead-white wash to mask the lines of the hands and he redrew them in an elevated position, the elbows still resting on the old man’s lap.  Today, we see the jagged, smoky pentimenti of Rembrandt’s first idea, exposed over time by oxidation of his semi-opaque lead-white “erasures”.  Rembrandt used white opaque washes for changes and corrections in many of his drawings.  Far from being distracting, they provide fascinating lessons on his exacting draftsmanship and his working methods.

Rembrandt rendered the old man’s face in penetrating detail.  The man’s hair is poking out from under his high cap, which has ear flaps.  His wispy beard, strong countenance, and preoccupied gaze are familiar elements within Rembrandt’s figural vocabulary in the late 1640s and early 1650s.

This detailed genre study was built up almost entirely with pen lines, without the help of brushed washes for shading and tone.  As exemplified here, Rembrandt was brilliant in creating depth, shadow and accents by varying the position, breadth and frequency of his lines.  The appearance of dry brushwork or finger rubbing is evident only at the man’s right shoulder and the far side of the fireplace surround.  Two other drawings by Rembrandt from this period with the same style and caliber of mastery are Tobit asleep, Benesch 872, Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans-van Beuningen, Giltaij 1988, no. 22 (c. 1651) and Three studies of old men standing and walking, Benesch 679, British Museum, Royalton-Kisch 1992, no. 45 (c. 1646-8).

An unremarkable copy of this drawing is in Turin at the Biblioteca Reale (see Benesch, 1973, Vol. II, no. C26a).