R. V. R. Analysis
Van Loon’s portrait of Rembrandt merges two romantic conceptions of the artist: The first is a view of the artist as an unappreciated genius undervalued by a fickle public, and the second is a conception of the artist as one who cannot cope with the practical concerns of daily life. Thus, Van Loon accounts for Rembrandt’s difficulties in his later years by a combination of Rembrandt’s integrity as a painter unwilling or unable to conform to the shallow tastes of the public and of his inability to manage his financial and personal affairs. This interpretation makes Rembrandt both hero and victim and gives the reader of any age a reason to care about him.
Although knowledgeable readers may presume Rembrandt’s greatness, Van Loon utilizes several narrative techniques to gain his audience’s appreciation for the artist’s work. The most important method may be the use of the sensitive and intelligent narrator, Joannis, to testify to the worth of Rembrandt’s paintings. In addition, Van Loon creates dialogue in which Rembrandt describes his own vision of particular works. Finally, reproductions of selected paintings and etchings allow readers to form their own opinions. These strategies convince readers both of Rembrandt’s greatness and of the injustice of the reception given his later works.
For example, Van Loon sees Rembrandt’s acclaimed The Nightwatch (1642), a painting of a company of military volunteers, as a turning point in the artist’s career. In the biography, Rembrandt is shown displaying the work to an amazed and admiring Joannis and speaking emotionally of his attempt to depict the nobility of these common citizens. Only when the reader is persuaded of the painting’s brilliance does Van Loon relate the unfavorable reaction of the company members who had commissioned the work and who desired nothing more than a typical rendering of men seated around a table. Public dissatisfaction with this work, according to Van Loon, “doomed” Rembrandt and made it nearly impossible for him to obtain commissions for future projects. For the reader, Rembrandt is a victim of public ignorance.
Rembrandt is also depicted as a victim of his own flaws, but these flaws come from his nearly total dedication to art. The painter is described spending exorbitant amounts of money on his collection of art, but he tells Joannis that he buys works in order to learn from them. Pictured as almost childlike in his management of finances, Rembrandt speaks of the time that such inconsequential items as bills and payments take from his work. He is displayed neglecting...
(The entire section is 642 words.)