Studies of a woman and two children

studies-of-a-woman-and-children-mfaREMBRANDT van Rijn

Leiden 1606 – 1669 Amsterdam


Studies of a woman and two children  (c. 1640)

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

136 x 132 mm.


fragment, Strasbourg lily with letters PR below, at top center: identical to Schatborn 1985, cat. no. 27, p. 237 (c. mid-1640s); similar to Ash and Fletcher 1998, variant E´.a., p. 201 (1637-1654); Churchill, no. 378 (1636).

vertical, 22 mm.

inscribed, upper left, in dark brown ink by Rembrandt: een kindeken met een oudt jack op sijn hoofdken (“a little child with an old jacket on his head”); at upper left corner 30 (graphite).


Dr. Christian David Ginsburg, 1831-1914, (Lugt 1145), Oakthorpe, Palmer’s Green, Middlesex.

Victor Koch, London.

Heinrich Eisemann, 1890-1972, Frankfurt and London.

Stefan Zweig, 1881-1942, Vienna, London (1934-40) and Rio de Janiero.

Alfred Zweig, 1880-1977, New York.

Sale, New York, Sotheby Parke Bernet, 30 May 1979, lot 81, acquired at the sale.


Benesch, Otto. The Drawings of Rembrandt. London, 1954, Vol. II, no. 300, fig. 340 and 1973, Vol. II, no. 300, fig. 366 (c. 1636).

Strauss, Walter L. and Meulen M. V. D. The Rembrandt Documents. New York, 1979, p. 605, illus.

Vogel-Köhn, Doris. Rembrandts Kinderzeichnungen. Köln, 1981, no. 51, illus. (c. 1639-40)

Kitson, Martin. Rembrandt. Oxford, 1982, fig. 21 and 1992, fig. 20.


Cambridge, Fogg Art Museum, The draughtsman at work: Drawing in the golden century of Dutch art, 1980, no. 15, n.p.

Cambridge, Busch-Reisinger Museum, Rembrandt: A selection of his works, 1983, n.p.

Boston, Museum of Fine Arts and Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago, Rembrandt’s journey: painter, draftsman, etcher, 2003-4.

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

This tender drawing shows a woman, probably a nursemaid, caring for two children, quite likely siblings, in two separate studies with an autograph inscription between them.  From the configuration of the inscription, it is apparent that the larger study on the right was drawn first.  There, a standing nurse, her bonnet strings taut under her chin, is firmly clasping a wobbly toddler with a fall-cap in place.  In the left study, the same nurse, now seated and looking away pensively, has pulled the tie-strings up onto her bonnet and is holding a swaddled baby in her lap.  The strong, consistent shadows indicate a sunny day.  There must have been a chill in the air, for the nurse has buttoned her bodice and she is cradling the infant in an old jacket, a scene that fascinated Rembrandt so much that he jotted down a note about it.  The fragmentary pen lines at the top border above Rembrandt’s annotation probably represents a third study of the nurse, her elbows visible, again with a child in her hands.

Some of the marvels of this timeless drawing are the fluidity of quick, confident strokes seen in the figures’ gowns, the anatomical precision in the standing woman’s posture, the crisp, detailed features of her gaunt face with intricate and deep shadows and hatchings conveyed by masterful turns of the difficult reed pen, and the emotional content Rembrandt is able to build into the poses and expressions.  The drawing shows the care and completeness that Rembrandt especially reserved for works depicting people he knew.  It is possible that the family and their nursemaid were among his Amsterdam neighbors.

Vivid and moving, this beautifully preserved sheet is one of  a small group of Rembrandt drawings of children with adults, dating from the end of the 1630s to the beginning of the 1640s.  These domestic sketches all seem to be done outdoors from life.  They were produced with a reed pen in intensely dark iron-gall ink, largely without the application of brushed washes.  Others are: Sketches of an old man with a child, Benesch 659, British Museum, Royalton-Kisch 1992, no. 31 (c. 1639-40); Two studies of a woman sitting on the ground with children, Benesch 197, Musée du Louvre, Starcky 1988, no. 23 (c. 1638); Studies of two men and of two children, Benesch 199, Musée du Louvre, Starcky 1988, no. 24 (c. 1638-40); and A woman seated on the ground with two children, Benesch 198, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C (Figure 5a).  Doris Vogel-Köhn in her monograph (1981) on Rembrandt’s drawings of children concluded that all the drawings in this grouping were from 1639 to 1640.

Although Benesch dated this drawing to 1636, a dating around 1640 is justified based on affinities in graphic style with the related sketches, Rembrandt’s use here of reed pen and iron-gall ink, and paper-watermark evidence.  Rembrandt may have created the drawing from a chance encounter on a neighborhood street during the spring of 1640, while Saskia was mid-term in her pregnancy with Cornelia II.  He seemed to favor making affectionate drawings of children with women or men when impending fatherhood was on his mind.  Cornelia II died in August 1640, two weeks after her birth.  Rembrandt’s mother died the following month, another somber marker in the master’s life.

Of the nearly one-thousand authentic Rembrandt drawings that have survived, no more than twenty-five carry the artist’s signature or inscription.  This drawing annotated by Rembrandt is the last one of this group still in private hands.