Rembrandt van Rijn had a lifelong interest in the humanity of his subjects, and this drawing of a man leaning on a stick is a particularly vibrant example. It is part of a recent acquisition of 39 Dutch drawings that was set in motion nearly two years ago and finalized in January this year.
Standing in profile and facing to the left, the male figure almost certainly represents a beggar supporting himself with a crutch. Loose, broken lines leave blank spaces and form darker accents. The sketchiness of the figure creates a convincing sense of three-dimensionality, while the bend of his back and his heavy weight on the crutch are made even more compelling by the strange open-mouthed laugh that suggests mental instability.
Rembrandt created this drawing when he was in his early 20s. In this period of his career, from 1625 to 1631, Rembrandt set up his studio in the home of his parents in Leiden and worked to establish himself as a history painter. He produced many drawings in preparation for paintings and etchings.
Inspired by people he saw on the streets, Rembrandt often depicted people living in poverty. He incorporated them as bystanders in his biblical compositions, where they served as reminders of the Christian duty of giving alms. He also used them to offer compassionate commentary on social inequality.
Rembrandt made around twenty printed depictions of beggars, which circulated widely in Amsterdam during his lifetime. Here he used his quill pen with lightning speed to jot down the figure in a sequence of rapid strokes—testimony to his precocious talent.
Despite its small size and tangled web of lines, this moving portrayal of a beggar laughing speaks to painter Odilon Redon’s praise of Rembrandt’s talents: “No one master has painted drama as Rembrandt did. Everything, even the smallest sketch, involves the human heart.” As was typical for Rembrandt, nothing escaped his attention. With just a few deft pen lines he captured the very human qualities of this young man—the bend of his back and the turn of his foot, the messy curls of hair and ragged clothes, the fixated gaze and laughing expression.
In coming to Getty, this drawing joins our substantial Rembrandt holdings, including several early paintings and eleven other drawings by the artist.