No one will ever mistake a Rembrandt painting for a Picasso painting. Or a Rembrandt print with one by Picasso. Or any Picasso for a Rembrandt. And yet, no one can ever break the linkage between the two. The Old Master’s influence on the Modern Master is undeniable, as is the enormity of both their paintings and prints. Only the über-wealthy museums, institutions, organizations and individuals can even hope to own the great paintings from either. What is astonishing about their prints is that most everyone can still own an original Rembrandt or a Picasso. Not because they are less important artistically, rather because they are more available.
Rembrandt did not invent etching or prints but he certainly perfected them. He could tell an entire story in one of his diminutive works with such artistic and technical genius that, hundreds of years later, people are still in awe. He set the standard for his time, but more importantly, he set it for all time. He elevated the art of etching to unsurpassed heights. He humanized his art as not only being depictions of events, but also depictions of the human emotions that flowed into and past those events. In the process, untold numbers of generations could view his art and be immersed into the scenes. He could therefore connect with those people. Indeed, Rembrandt not only captured a scene, but those who view his scene. His use of darkness to show light is legendary, but so is his painterly way of combining lines, cross-hatching and ink that was hand-applied on his copper etching plates. His etchings were never two-dimensional—they were every bit as deep as his paintings. Deep into the third dimension physically, but also deep in meaning, thought and feeling.
His reach spans the centuries not only with art connoisseurs but artists themselves. He liberated artists from the restraints of past means and methods as he blazed a trail for artists to do things differently than their predecessors and teachers. That his influence stretched to such a diverse group as Turner, Delocroix, Degas, Renoir, van Gogh, Chagall, Manet and Picasso is testament to his unmatched power.
In examining the ties that bind Rembrandt with Picasso, it is too simple to note the influence of their muses, as most artists have muses. Picasso certainly had more than Rembrandt, but then again, Picasso re-invented himself in fundamental ways time and time again as he sought new challenges and forms of expression. In art and in muses.
It is equally unimportant to say that their signature paintings were gargantuan. Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” is now about 12 feet high and 14 feet long, although it was trimmed by several feet in 1715 in order to make it fit in its new location. Picasso’s “Guernica” is about 11 feet tall and 25 feet long.