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Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn
1606 Leiden – Amsterdam 1669
The Pancake Woman 1635
etching; 110 x 80 mm (4 5/16 x 3 1/8 inches)
Bartsch 124, White/Boon third state (of three); Hind 141; The New Hollstein 144 second state (of seven)
Robert Dighton, London (his stamp recto, Lugt 727)
sale, Sotheby’s, London, February 20, 1962, lot 176
C.G. Boerner, Düsseldorf (stock no. in pencil on the verso 5494)
private collection, Germany (acquired in October 1962)
Of the first state, pulled from the unfinished plate that shows no shading on the central figure, only two impressions survive in Amsterdam and London. This is a very fine, crisp impression of the second state when the plate is finished but the small area of foul biting on the basket in the foreground at right has not yet been re-worked with cross hatching. The sheet is in pristine condition, with margins all round.
By the time Rembrandt made his etching of a woman baking pancakes in 1635, the subject was already a well-established one in the genre scenes of such artists as Jan van de Velde and Adriaen Brouwer. Indeed, Rembrandt owned a painting by Brouwer of a koekebaker (cake baker) which is the earliest known treatment of the subject and might have been the direct inspiration for Rembrandt’s own image. However, unlike Brouwer and Jan van de Velde, who set their scenes in domestic interiors, Rembrandt’s pancake baker is a street vendor.
A small crowd of hungry children crowd around the pan of the grim-faced woman; a youth standing behind her offers her coins, perhaps in the hope of preferential treatment while a tiny child at the far right looks longingly at the three pancakes as they cook. Rembrandt represents the children here in a characteristically robust and vivid manner, one that avoids the sentimental conventions traditionally surrounding the subject. Between around 1635 and 1651, Rembrandt made many studies of life in the streets of Amsterdam and this etching is based on one of his drawings of a pancake woman. The little boy in the foreground desperately protecting his pancake from a determined dog was taken from another drawing.
Clifford Ackley notes that “The Pancake Woman is one of the first etchings in which Rembrandt made expressive use of different degrees of finish” (cat. Boston/Chicago, p. 145, no. 75). While in the first state of this print the various elements are described sketchily with wiry outlines and little shading, in this, the finished second state of the image, the pancake woman is now heavily shaded with parallel lines of hatching, providing a visual anchor around which the lighter forms of the largely unshaded children figures circulate.