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The study of Rembrandt needs to begin again; ignoring the present system; and relying on a system that uses the datable model groups as the criterion for dating Rembrandt's drawings, regardless of the variety of style they may display.

True style is an expression of the artist's complete personality; his beliefs, his education, his personality, his moment in history and his native environment. In Rembrandt's case his belief in the observation of nature is fundamental and very much in tune with the scientists of his time. The tradition of form that he used to probe nature is close to Roman portrait sculpture (he owned 30 original marbles and made drawings from them in two albums - now lost). Roman solid-geometry was extended by Rembrandt to include space as well as solid geometric forms. This is the hall-mark of his style; and an important part of his technical genius that enabled him to define space precisely.

The scholars understanding of 'style' falls far short of its full significance. The scholars look at the superficial handwriting of the artist. It does not work - it does not even allow them to distinguish Rembrandt from his followers (e.g. David and Solomon). The marks made by an artist vary according to the nature of the pen he happens to be holding , or with the quality of the surface he is drawing on. They are the product of chance. It is wrong to attach too much importance to them. Style is a pattern of thought not just handwriting. (This is too large a subject to discuss now.)

During his life-time Rembrandt was frequently criticised for not finishing his pictures properly. He answered this saying "A work of art is finished when the artist has expressed his intention in it." He might have hoped for better treatment from posterity!

Modern criticism has put a premium on art that springs from what the experts think of as imagination, that is art made without reference to the outside world. Yet Rembrandt, who must rank very high among imaginative artists, was unable to work satisfactorily "without a living model before his eyes" (Houbraken). Rembrandt had a strong natural bias to work from observation. This is obvious when one studies his drawings and etchings and it is stated over and over again by those who knew Rembrandt. Rembrandt is a weather vane of feeling - his responses are widely varied. Sensibility produces variety. However, it is tacitly denied by the experts. Their desire to purify, (meaning standardise) Rembrandt's work, is enthusiasm grossly misplaced.

Rembrandt clearly produces of his best when working from concrete reality “he had a wonderful capacity to reproduce concrete subjects” (Roger de Piles) and a surprising incapacity to construct or imagine without a model to draw from. He could not be further from the kind of artist that modern criticism favours. The attempt to make him conform to modern expectations of imagination has created havoc with his reputation.

Rembrandt has been a signpost for all artists since his time and that signpost has been turned to point in the wrong direction, causing great confusion. It is very unlikely that the scholars will take a lead in the process of reform. All this information has been available to the scholars since February 1977 when I published it in The Burlington Magazine with the help of Professor E.H. Gombrich and Dr Jennifer Montagu. Students and the public will have to act themselves to stop the ongoing mistaken view of Rembrandt's working methods.

If any good is to be hoped for from the Rembrandt catastrophe it should precipitate a full scale overhaul of the way we arrive at cultural decisions. I would suggest putting artists back in charge. At least that would ensure a wide ranging and heated debate, something that the present regimes of art historians have failed to provide. My experience on the contrary shows, art historians effectively squashing the opposition by their refusal to debate (witness this website). This coupled with the subsidised power and prestige of their exhibitions and publications has made their flawed position – apparently impregnable.

The Museum of Artists’ Secrets consists of important further criticisms of of the way the history of art is handled at present.

If you have any questions you would like to raise please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. A DVD is also available, price: £12.00/€14.00 (about $15.00) (includes post and packing) and can be requested by contacting Nigel Konstam. The DVD contains about 1 hour of clear demonstrations, illustrations and explanation by Nigel Konstam.

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