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Rembrandt (1936)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

Seventeenth-century Amsterdam. The young artist Rembrandt, at the peak of his success, stocks up on artist materials at his local shop. He is joined by some friends who ask after his wife Saskia, who, they imply, is in failing health, but Rembrandt dismisses their concerns. Later, in the tavern, he is asked why he always paints just one woman (and his wife at that). Rembrandt delivers an elegiac tribute to Saskia, describing her as all women.

At Rembrandt's home, Saskia, who expresses a wish to greet her husband on his return, collapses as she rises from her bed. Rembrandt is sent for but he is too late. In his grief, Rembrandt retreats to his studio. Meanwhile his housekeeper, Geertje, negotiates with the envoys of the Prince of Orange for a commission of a portrait. When one of the envoys goes through to the studio he finds Rembrandt painting an empty chair. Rembrandt explains that he can still see Saskia and must paint her one more time before the image fades.

Rembrandt agrees to paint a group portrait of the Civic Guard. At the unveiling of the portrait to a multitude of dignitaries, the reverence gives way to ridicule and fury as the Civic Guard are unable to recognise themselves. Unapologetic, Rembrandt accuses the Guard of drunkenness and stupidity. Later, at the celebratory dinner to which the disgruntled mass do not turn up, Rembrandt, drunk, muses on the nature of success. He leaves the housekeeper and his pupils and repairs to the bedroom where he write the name 'Saskia' in the dust on the linen chest. He meets the housekeeper in the corridor and follows her upstairs, presumably to her room.

Ten years later. Rembrandt is in debt. Bailiffs arrive to repossess the house contents and paintings. Geertje tells them that everything of value has already been sold. Rembrandt escapes out and meets a beggar who he persuades back to the studio to model for a painting of King Saul. He tell the beggar the story of Saul and the young David and recites the 23rd Psalm. Having set the scene for the pose they are interrupted by Geertje, at the end of her patience. Rembrandt finally agrees to go begging for a commission. He goes with the beggar who tries to teach him how to beg but Rembrandt can not bring himself to and decides to go back home to Leyden.

In Leyden, Rembrandt sees his father and brother, who run a mill. He ends up in a brawl in the tavern in an argument about his right to belong in the neighbourhood. He doesn't fit it with the heavy physical work of running the mill either and he returns to Amsterdam where he meets Henrikje who is maid to Geertje. He immediately takes her off to the studio to pose for a painting and although she is nervous at first he puts her at her ease. Their relationship develops, causing Geertje to become jealous. Following a quarrel with Henrikje, Geertje leaves.

Rembrandt wants to marry Henrikje but the terms of his first wife's will make it impossible. Henrikje is tried for unchastity and is excommunicated. Still in debt, she and Rembrandt sell the house and leave for a small house in the country. Rembrandt continues to paint, and is visited by an art connoisseur buying paintings for the cardinal in Paris. He wants to buy a picture of the virgin, expressing surprise that she is depicted without a halo. Rembrandt observes that 'sanctity comes from within, one is not obliged to wear it on one's head like a Flemish hat'. However Rembrandt's son, Titus, reminds him that under the terms of his bankruptcy, he may not sell his paintings. Later Henrikje finds a loophole in the law, and proclaims herself Rembrandt's employer, meaning that his works belong to her. They are able to move back to Amsterdam but she becomes ill and dies before they can marry.

Years later. Rembrandt is now an eccentric old man, in greater poverty than ever. As he haggles over the price of a herring a party of fashionable young people arrive and take Rembrandt off to the tavern to hear his stories. The young people laugh at him, until they over hear his friend call him Rembrandt when they treat him with more reverence. The friend takes him away and gives him money to buy food, but as ever Rembrandt spends it on paint, and returns to his self-portrait.