Genesis of Rembrandt's Night Watch Discovered

Updated: Dec 23, 2021

Investigators have found a new, hidden drawing made directly onto the canvas of the Dutch masterpiece, The Night Watch, in chalky beige paint.

After two-and-a-half years of high-tech investigations, researchers at Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum have discovered the original sketch Rembrandt used for his 1642 masterpiece, in what is being hailed as a “breakthrough” that reveals the “genesis” of the famed portrait of Amsterdam’s civic guardsman.


The oil on canvas painting that we see today, the Rijksmuseum's most famous exhibit, depicts the city’s civil militia marching out to defend the city and shows off Rembrandt's renowned use of light and composition to create a dynamic scene filled with characters.


But the investigation found a new, hidden drawing made directly onto the canvas in a chalky beige paint. "The discovery of the sketch represents a breakthrough in this research,” said Taco Dibbits, director of the Rijksmuseum. "We always suspected Rembrandt must have made a sketch on the canvas before embarking on this incredibly complex composition,” he added. “Now we have the proof, giving us a real understanding for the first time of how the painting was made. We have discovered the genesis of The Night Watch."

The sketch beneath the oil paint reveals the various adjustments made by the Dutch painter as he finessed the work. "It gives us the feeling we can peek over Rembrandt's shoulder while he was working on The Night Watch," said Pieter Roelofs, the museum's head of paintings and sculpture.


Separately, the Dutch government has announced that it plans to buy another Rembrandt masterpiece, The Standard Bearer, from a private collection in France to add to the Rijksmuseum’s collection. The Rothschild family have signed a letter of intent to sell the self-portrait for 150 million euros (£128m), the culture ministry said. The Dutch parliament now needs to back the initiative.

Photo Credits: Rijksmuseum

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