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The Dramatic Image: Baroque Prints of the 17th Century

Rembrandt van Rijn
Dutch, 1606–1669

The Three Trees

Etching, engraving, and drypoint, 1634
Grace J. Hitchcock Collection, 1981.171

The Three Treesis at once Rembrandt’s largest and most confusing landscape print. Using a varied etched line and insistent drypoint work, the artist has created a landscape undergoing dramatic atmospheric change. Sunlight dominates the background, silhouetting the three trees and illuminating a city in the distance; in the foreground, almost directly overhead, an isolated storm breaks. Inexplicably, the people and animals etched throughout the landscape— look for the artist sketching and the lovers hidden in the bushes—seem unaware of the changing weather.There might be a practical explanation for the drama and confusion. The overly dark and obscured foreground suggests that the plate used for this print was left too long in the acid bath that “bites” the etched lines deeply enough to hold ink. The lines were too deeply bitten and consequently some details, such as the fisherman and his wife, were obscured. The plate was heavily scraped and burnished in the area of the sky. This was probably done to lighten it after the initial over processing. The clouds and diagonal sheets of rain were added after the plate had been scraped— perhaps to unify the print and justify the darkness below. An unfortunate mistake might have resulted in one of Rembrandt’s most noteworthy prints.