Sunday, December 10, 2006

Set Off To London - Came Back With A Rembrandt!

It seems like I have been engraving solidly for weeks, working through my list of bookplates and other commissions, and so it was with great pleasure that I, together with J, took a day off and went by train to London town.

First stop was the British Library - just five minutes walk from Kings Cross station. There is a wonderful display of treasures. J mainly drooled over illuminated manuscripts - as did I, but my heart was finally lost to a Gutenburg Bible and Caxton's Fables of Aesop.

A short walk took us to Falkener's Fine Papers. Here were more treasures and, if we had not a day in the city ahead of us, I would have stocked up on hand marbelled and paste papers.

We swung along through Bloomsbury, past the British Museum to Museum Street - one of my favourite London locations. Sadly, the bookshops and print shops are slowly disappearing from this short street but it is still a pleasure to explore - especially in the hope of picking up a bargain. We sorted through a box of inexpensive prints and drawings and one small image stopped me in my tracks...

A couple of weeks ago, A and I had spent a happy half hour in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. I had wanted to see the exhibition of Rembrant etchings and A was glad to come along and join in the fun. It is a lovely display of etchings in a small room off one of the main galleries. Much of it concentrates of his portrayals of his wife, Saskia, but there are also many of his etched self portraits and we were really captured by them.

Now people who know me well will confirm that I am not great at remembering people's names but I maintain that I remember every painting, drawing or print I have ever seen. And that is why, gentle reader, I was in a state of some excitement when I took my own Rembrandt self- portrait, rescued from the box, to the desk and paid for it.

I had to wait until this morning to confirm my suspicions. A moment with a hand lens showed that this was an etching and not a reproduction. A Google search soon found the work - a self portrait in a fur hat from 1630 just a I recalled from the exhibition. The full image would have looked like this:

Mine has been trimmed within the plate mark and pasted into an album at some stage. I found a trimmed example in another museum:

My copy is wider and has just the end of the signature/date above the head.

I need to get some advice about the state of the etching - it would be great to find out that this is lifetime impression. I also need to think about conservation. I doubt that it has any great value but it is a thing of great beauty. Just to contemplate the quality of the working takes the breath away; it is amazingly fine. And how much did I pay for this? I would normally avoid any financial references here but I have to tell you... sorry, but I really MUST point out that it cost me slightly less than the cappuccino that I enjoyed at the British Library! It just goes to show that even an impecunious engraver can acquire art.

We enjoyed the rest of our meanderings through London but, I have to confess, my mind did keep wandering back to what I was carrying in my backpack, slipped into a magazine for safety.

I will recommend, once more, the Fizwilliam Museum. It has some online exhibitions, including a couple which concentrate of Japanese Woodblock prints:

And now back to work, a chilly studio and the LJ bookplate.


annie said...

Oh, Andy!
What a lovely story this is! I hope it *is* a lifetime impression, and that a conservator can help with its condition. Too bad it was trimmed, but most likely if it had not been it wouldn't have ended up an orphan in a box of inexpensive prints for you to stumble across...

Please keep us updated on what you find out!

Annie Fitt

Annie B said...

Oh my gosh, this is so exciting! Yes, let us know what you find out about this print. And I have to say, once again I notice what a wonderful writer you are. I enjoyed your descriptions of your forays in London town.

Andy English said...

Yes, I will keep posting on this one. I have had an initial reply to my first query but, of course, I must try to reign in my exuberance until I am absolutely sure of myself.