‘Child in a Tantrum’ or ‘The naughty child’ and other Rembrandt drawings of children

I love Rembrandt’s brilliant sketches of different sorts of people, clearly made from life. There are some lovely ones of children. But this one (known as Child in a Tantrum) from 1635 is my new absolute favourite. What a brilliant – and funny – drawing. I love the way the older children are giggling in the doorway as the clearly frazzled woman tries to contain the toddler and the older woman wags her finger at him. I think that’s a shoe flying off too and that he’s naked from the waist down – probably refusing to be dressed. It’s executed in pen and ink so there was no rubbing out, just an immediate loose and wonderfully lively drawing. Clearly there never was a mystical age where little children behaved perfectly….

Rembrandt: Child in a tantrum

Rembrandt Van Rijn, Child in a Tantrum, 1635 © Kupferstichkabinett Berlin

Rembrandt made a number of paintings of children, including a number of lovely images of his son Titus – his fourth and only surviving child with his wife Saskia – at various different ages. It’s his lively, uninhabited drawings of children that I particularly like though and looking at his other sketches it occurs to me that what makes them so brilliant isn’t just the way he captures the child but mostly the way he captures the pose of the adult who is either with them or holding them – their weight, the strain on them, their relationship with that child. Look at the way the woman below holds the child whilst carefully negotiating the stairs and nuzzling him at the same time, below. And of course the child’s pose, the way he’s looking over her shoulder at what’s going on behind them, is also perfect.

Rembrandt, A Woman Carrying A Child Downstairs

Rembrandt, A Woman Carrying A Child Downstairs, 1635, © The Morgan Library and Museum

Here’s possibly my very favourite artwork and the most accomplished drawing ever. Two women are teaching a small child to bending to his/her level as they toddles along. Everything about that drawing is so perfect – the forms of all the characters, their weight, their pose, and the relationship between them – and executed so quickly and in so few lines.

Rembrandt, Two Women Teaching A Child To Walk, 1637-9 © British Museum

And another, below – brilliantly observed. I like the child’s determined little arms.

Rembrandt, An Old Woman Holding A Child In Leading Strings, 1646 © Nationalmuseum, Stockholm

It was nice to discover that I’m in good company in my choice of my favourite ever drawings. I came across this quote below from David Hockney about the last drawing…..

Rembrandt, A Child Being Taught To Walk

Rembrandt, A Child Being Taught To Walk,1656 © British Museum

“Look at the speed, the way he wields that reed pen, drawing very fast, with gestures that are masterly…..Look, for instance at those whisking marks on the head and shoulders of the girl in the center, the older sister, probably made with the other side of the pen, which let you know that she is craning, turning anxiously to look at the baby’s face to make sure he’s okay. Or how the mother, on the other side, holds him up in a slightly different, more experienced manner. the astonishing double profile of her face, to either side of the mark. the evident roughness of the material of her dress: how this is decidedly not satin……the sheer mastery.”  – David Hockney, Harper’s Magazine article by Lawrence Weschler June, 2005


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