Rembrandt van Rijn, ‘Abraham Francen, Apothecary’, ca. 1657, David Tunick, Inc.

This extremely rare fourth state impression of Rembrandt’s close friend, Abraham Francen (1612-after 1678), is one of his most striking portraits and the only one the artist created in horizontal format. Francen, a passionate art collector, was exceptionally supportive of Rembrandt through his financial difficulties, and Christopher White suggests that Rembrandt etched this portrait as a token of gratitude. (C. White, Rembrandt as an Etcher, London, 1969, p. 143).

Rembrandt was influenced by Renaissance portraiture, where objects referred to the sitter’s social status and intellectual pursuits. In this work Francen sits at a desk surrounded by things reflective of his interests. He holds a piece of paper, which by the fourth state has been reworked, showing it to be a print or a drawing. On the table is an open book; beside it rests an Asian sculpture and a skull, which could refer to Francen’s profession as a pharmacist.

Rembrandt seems to have worked out the composition directly on the plate, although the essence of it was completed in the first state. In this fourth state impression the curtain is completely removed, and the window jambs and curtain rods are drawn in; trees were added in the open window, the chair has been altered, and the position of Francen’s right hand is changed. In our impression Rembrandt reduced the harsh contrast between the white paper and the darker, inked areas by using Japan paper and surface tone to make the light more diffuse throughout the room. He selectively clean-wiped parts of the plate to allow certain details to read more clearly – e.g., the Taoist deity figure, the carefully delineated decorative frame on the panel painting in the left background, and parts of the chair.

Fourth state impressions of the print are exceedingly rare and show wide variations in surface tone, giving each impression an individual character. Hollstein lists only seven other fourth states on Japan, all in public collections.

Bartsch 273; Hind 291; Hollstein 273; New Hollstein 301, fourth state of twelve

A.P.F. Robert-Dumesnil, his sale, Phillips, London, 12 April 1836, described as “A superb impression on Indian paper”;
Sotheby’s, London, 27 June 1985; to
David Tunick, Inc., New York; to
Private collection, U.S.A.; to
David Tunick, Inc., New York

About Rembrandt van Rijn

A prolific painter, draftsman, and etcher, Rembrandt van Rijn is considered the greatest artist of Holland's Golden Age. He worked from direct observation, and despite the evolution of his style over the course of his career, Rembrandt’s compelling descriptions of light, space, atmosphere, modeling, texture, and human affect are the result of intense perceptual study. A prominent portraitist, Rembrandt is most famous for The Night Watch (1642), a monumental painting of militia guards that features Rembrandt’s distinctive use of chiaroscuro.

Dutch, 1606-1669, Leiden, Netherlands, based in Amsterdam and Leiden, Holland