The 17th Century painter Rembrandt dominated what was later termed the “Dutch Golden Age.” His innovative use of shadow and light inspired 18th Century portrait artists throughout Europe as well as 19th Century realists. He may well be the greatest of the “Old Masters.” And Rembrandt made money, lots of money … but died impoverished.
Born in Leiden in 1606 AD. Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn trained as an artist from 1620 to 1625 – having some modicum of talent it seems –learning the basic techniques there and then moving to Amsterdam to master the finer points of smearing paint on canvas. Returning to Leiden, Rembrandt began painting religious and allegorical scenes, small but rich in detail. These were popular and sold well, establishing his reputation across Holland and beyond.
Commencing in 1631, the young artist painted commissioned portraits of Amsterdam’s elite, and did a few of himself as well … perhaps as samples. He also painted several dramatic, large-scale biblical and mythological scenes featuring his contrasts of light and dark and compelling displays of space, mostly to be sold in galleries. In 1642, Rembrandt finished what is considered his masterpiece, 'The Night Watch.'
But in the ten years that followed, his output diminished dramatically. Moreover, his extravagant lifestyle finally brought financial ruin; only a legal arrangement avoided his bankruptcy in 1656, by which he was forced to sell off most of his paintings. Despite continuing to paint, he lived in much reduced circumstances. Rembrandt van Rijn died in 1669, and was buried a pauper in the graveyard in the Westerkerk of Amsterdam; as was common for the poor, after 20 years his remains were dug up and destroyed to make room for more paupers.