In the 19th century, a growing interest for Rembrandt’s works emerges in France; a great number of art critics and collectors, especially after 1850, are being interested in the artist’s paintings and engravings. After the events concerning the French Revolution, Rembrandt becomes an example for the French people as a political artist. Especially the graphic designers of the time will follow his example. This high interest for the Dutch artists echoes at the Louvre, where we can witness even a greater demand for his works. Not long after, the main curator of Louvre, Georges Duplessis, responsible for Museum’s stamp collection, receives the mission to restore the old, fragile engravings Rembrandt made during his lifetime, and to remake the copper plates that have been lost, using the original engravings of the artist.
Georges Duplessis gave this difficult and time-consuming task to Amand Durand (1831-1905), a very skilled graphic artist and one of the best engravers of the time. Amand Durand, inspired by the technique used by his predecessor, Nicéphore Niépce - the inventor of heliography -, developed a new technique for preserving the damaged paper works and copper plates. This implied a long process: it took six months to imprint a Rembrandt engraving – a work that was 200 years old - on a copper plate, with an astonishing precision of 1/1000 mm, using only the electric lamp. Many of the existing copper plates were in bad shape or damaged, some of them being „re-worked” at the end of the 18th century. Also, different lines or motifs were later added on these copper plates, elements not belonging to the original work made by Rembrandt. Thanks to Amand Durand’s work, who managed to reinstate the original design of the copper plates, a great number of
Rembrandt’s works were saved. For doing so, valuable materials were used in the process: silver, amalgam, steel, mercury, copper and asphalt from Death Sea. These materials were then exposed to the action of an electric lamp in order to obtain the same incisions as the ones made by Rembrandt. But because this method could have been also used to print money bills, the municipality of Paris decided to ban it, shortly after the first impressions after Rembrandt were made by Amand Durand. This is the reason why we have today such a small number of works made by Amand Durand.
Few of the first printings made between 1630 and 1650 after the copper plates, some by Rembrandt, and some by his pupils, preserved. Most of these works suffered damage because of the paper used for later printing - a paper type with a high level of acidity, obtained from wood or cellulose. What makes Durand’s prints so resistant is the paper he used in this process – hand made paper, of a very good quality. Theo van Gogh (brother of Vincent van Gogh), friend and admirer of Amand Durand’s work, often used to express his regret in not owning some of these precious prints.
All of the prints made by Amand Durand during 1865-67, by request from the Louvre Museum, have on their back the collector’s stamp/mark, included in the Lugt Stamp Catalogue by the number LUGT 2934.
There were artists trying to denigrate Durand’s work though. Owning later Rembrandt prints, made after the damaged copper plates, they were concerned for these not to lose their value – if we just think how accurate Durand imprints were. This controversy still continues today. That is why it is important for us not to forget the artistic importance Rembrandt has, but also not to underestimate the work and art of Amand Durand, but keeping in mind the factual origins of these prints.
After Durand’s death in 1905, most of the copper plates he made were bought by Dominique Vincent et Cie, a publishing agency from Paris, and later published in the French National Library’s books and emissions. Some of these copper plates were later discovered by an American bookseller in 1985, in the home of Vincent family. He will later use the plates for printings, selling them for the price of 500-2500 $. These ones, contrary to the ones made by Amand Durand, do not have applied on the back the Amand Durand’s collector’s stamp which appears in the Lugt catalogue. Also, the paper used for imprinting is, sadly, of a much lesser quality than the one used by Amand in 1865.
This present collection of Rembrandt’s engravings was possible due to Amand Durand’s efforts to restore and remake the original copper plates. The exposition’s value must be seen in its unique educational aspects also. These works invite us to contemplate the precisions and content of Rembrandt’s works of art.
The number of 273 engravings – a complete collection - makes the exposition we see today worldly unique.
Collector’s stamp, placed on the back of the engravings Amand Durand made between 1865-1867 (LUGT 2934)