The Omval

Rembrandt Van Rijn
The Omval

An original Rembrandt Van Rijn etching.


Original etching and drypoint printed in black ink on laid paper

Signed and dated in the plate lower right Rembrandt 1645.

A superb 17th century/lifetime impression of Bartsch’s second and final state, Usticke’s first state of four, New Hollstein’s second state of three, of this rare etching, printed after the reduction of the right edge of the standing man’s hat (characterized by G.W. Nowell-Usticke in his 1967 catalogue Rembrandt’s Etchings: States and Values as “very scarce,” and given his scarcity rating of “RR-” [50 to 75 impressions extant in that year]), showing traces of burr on the sgnature. 

Catalog: Bartsch 209 ii/ii; Hind 210; Biorklund-Barnard 45-B; Usticke 209 i/iv; New Hollstein 221 ii/iii.

The area of Amsterdam still known as the Omval (“The Ruin,” a ruin formerly stood on this site, “omvallen” means to fall down) was in the seventeenth century a small spit of land at the head of a canal which entered the east bank of the River Amstel southeast of the city.  Like the ruins of Kostvorloren manor further south, this was an area often represented by Rembrandt and his contemporaries.
The etching mirrors the real situation (in reverse) to a considerable extent and shows on the extreme right, as a dark hole (somewhat resembling a bridge), the opening of the irrigation pipe where it discharges water pumped from the nearby polder into the Amstel.  One of the windmills producing this flow is shown in the far distance, near the banks of the canal that ran southeast from this point.  The second, larger windmill stood on the Omval itself, near some shipyards, and several boats are shown moored or hauled up on the banks. In the center, further boats obscure the inn behind, which was also known as the Omval.  This may have been the destination of the covered ferry that enters the scene on the right.
The foreground figures, the standing man in the center and, in the shadow of the tree, the lover placing the garland on the head of his beloved, appear to be unconnected with each other.  Indeed, the pastoral group of lovers marries somewhat uneasily, both iconographically and perspectivally, with the rest of the scene, which reflects the real situation closely.  It has been suggested that Rembrandt intended to recast the traditional image of pastoral lovers, usually represented in an idyllic (and Italianate) landscape, and place them instead in a real, recognizable and urban setting.  They may be compared with those in the etching the Three Trees (Bartsch 212), and the depiction of young pairs embracing in the landscape was commonplace.  The gnarled old tree is reminiscent of contemporary vanitas imagery, but Rembrandt’s intentions remain obscure.  To judge from its upper branches, the print was left unfinished in any conventional sense, despite the fact that Rembrandt not only enriched the texture of the work with drypoint additions – among the earliest in his oeuvre to print with such abstract force – but also signed and dated the plate in the same medium.