July 15, 2006

Dutch mark Rembrandt’s 400th anniversary

By Alexandra Hudson and Nicola Leske

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Art-lovers flocked to Rembrandt's
home town of Leiden on Saturday to admire his paintings and
soak up some period atmosphere, as the Netherlands feted the
birth 400 years ago of an enduring artistic genius.

"We are very lucky to have him. No doubt about it, and of
course we are very proud," said Gerben Baaij of the Rembrandt
400 foundation, in charge of the official celebrations.

In Amsterdam, the Rijksmuseum, celebrating Rembrandt with
an exhibition of all his paintings, began the day with a free
birthday breakfast for visitors between 0600 and 0800 GMT.

"You can't do Amsterdam without doing Rembrandt," Anna
McHugh, 39, from Dublin said. "And it's easier when there's a
special exhibition that shows so much."

James Blewman, a New Zealand native, said: "I'm hoping for
a birthday cake inside with 400 candles."

Those who had seen the exhibition said it was worth
enduring the 30- to 45-minute wait, but some said smaller
pieces like the well-known "Jewish bride" were hard to see due
to the crowds.

Later on Saturday the curtain goes up on a new musical --
said to be the most expensive in the Netherlands -- exploring
the painter's racy love-life and his financial troubles.

The prolific artist who produced over 600 paintings has
already drawn tens of thousands to the Netherlands in his
anniversary year, to enjoy exhibitions ranging from his
masterpieces, to Rembrandt ice sculptures and famous fakes.


The house in which Rembrandt was born on July 15 in 1606 is
long gone, but a nearby windmill and the town's cobbled
streets, canals and leaning, narrow houses offer an accurate
impression of the young artist's surroundings.

Huge Rembrandt reproductions have hung in the streets for
months and everybody seems to be cashing in on the anniversary,
with walking tours of his favorite haunts, special Rembrandt
dishes at restaurants and merchandise ranging from pens to

The son of a miller, Rembrandt was born in Leiden in 1606
and stayed in the town until 1631 when he moved to Amsterdam,
then at the height of its maritime and trading power.

He married Saskia, the great-niece of an art dealer in
1634, and moved to one of the city's most fashionable
districts, and commissions poured in.

But money slipped through his fingers, as Rembrandt
indulged himself with pricey collectables and objets d'art. He
was declared bankrupt in 1656 and forced to move to a smaller

Tragedy struck frequently -- three of his four children
died shortly after birth -- and Saskia died in 1642.

After his wife's death, Rembrandt had an affair with his
son's nurse Geertje, who ended up trying to sue him for failing
to marry her. Then he enjoyed the affections of the
much-younger Hendrickje, a former maid-servant.

But Rembrandt outlived them all, to die the sorrowful old
man of his haunting last self-portraits in 1669.