Rembrandt's Night Watch Square

Spin, art, knowledge and conversations

SINCE I LAST WROTE recently about landscape and painting, a neighbour and a new friend, asked me, Who was the best portrait painter?”

I said, “Rembrandt.”     

He then said,“ Yes, I have heard of him. He went bankrupt!”

I replied, “Yes, but it was because he did not get paid, or properly paid on time, for a huge fantastic civic commission painting called ‘The Night Watch’

There was a blank look on my friend’s face.

Noticing I said, “Don’t worry – it’s because our modern art establishment always try to find fault with great traditional painters, particularly those having wonderful past skills, so it’s likely you may have only heard or seen those negative comments in general, especially as you said you never followed art.

I explained as an example of this, “There is a modern art historian today who has regular television programmes, and is always wanting to claim that somebody who was born 500 years ago, or just anybody from the Great Tradition in Art, was the very first 20th Century Modernist.”

I then said, “He often also stops about three quarters of the way through his programmes saying, “Of course, this is all before Avant Garde Modern Art arrived and then shows this instead to the end, despite having traditional art programme titles.”

That blank look remained on my friend’s face.

Whilst, as I am growing more and more concerned by these blanks and gaps in personal general knowledge today, all revolving around lost skills and knowledge of Classical Art, I thought I should offer the following information, in keeping with the theme I have long been describing, to help encourage an open, broader, deeper, and I hope, a much better understanding of what is being continuously lost for us all today within our Culture. And do remember your help in this respect will much be appreciated.

The Night Watch by Rembrandt 

Here is the Night Watch by Rembrandt. It is massive, roughly 12 ft 6″ x 15 ft. In the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.

These were irregulars, and volunteers. As they were at war at the time with Spain, he wanted to make it to appear real. However, they were not happy, as not all of them were featured as in a school photo style image, so he had major grief obtaining payment. You can see the amount of work he did from the photo, and just imagine the size of this painting. To make separate realism like this – I think you can also imagine the number of separate individual sittings needed. And then to combine them into this huge picture, using different spears, guns, a flag, a drum, and the different poses of the watch themselves, all crossing, in front of the architecture behind, to create a huge three-dimensional space. A great depth you can see exists even within this photo. And the tonality – this huge light, grey, and dark, and in temperature – hot, neutral, and cold, also in three giant separate steps, all with the 3-D drawing, which produce the magic and atmosphere within this wonderful view of life. In every respect, this is an incredible late example of work by the world’s best portrait painter, who set the bar so impossibly high.

Later my new friend then replied to me with the following words:

“Charles, this is the first opportunity I have had to read and digest the content of your letter in relation to Rembrandt.

And yes, I have enjoyed, and you never know one day maybe I will be in Amsterdam and will visit Rijksmuseum.

We were in Amsterdam 2004 I think or maybe 2005 and at that time we showed more interest in a visit to the red-light district.

How sad is that?”

“Charles, you also said, ‘It’s really a matter of time before this is understood on a general obvious level. For there is a crucial need today, to reintroduce Drawing and those proper lost skills and understanding of Art and Design, back into mainstream Education, and happily back into people lives again.’

I do not know more, but I trust your view, and I do not doubt the World would be a better place if that change of direction takes place fully. And then Banksy can go and take a hike ‘down the Suwannee River.’

Thank you”

Yes, I remember this man. When I stayed with my friend a German film producer in Munich, he sent me off one evening to the cinema with a friend of his, to see this large box office film claiming to be properly laughing at and making fun of the entire idea of conceptual art by Banksy (a graffiti artist who made an international modern art reputation, by secretly but unlawfully defacing buildings). Instead, it was a propaganda exercise, deliberate and sly, clearly saying the very opposite, as a pre-conditioning exercise – e.g. The usual thing for modern art critics and these people is to begin a speech saying, “Ha! ha! ha! We have all heard of the fairy story of Emperors’ Suit of Invisible Clothes, and of course this is not the case,” in a quiet voice and still dry laughing, “Ha! ha! ha!”

Naturally, my German Film producer did not believe me at the time. He does now.

An elderly knowledgeable friend of mine wrote to me last week about this subject too. He had read the last article, saying:

“There’s a whole lot of people who don’t understand it all, or who want to, but don’t know where to go to find out stuff…. (The media never offers us a choice today!)

For the problem is due to these trendy art historians, where classical art is always painted as scholarly and intellectual and its appreciation is not for the weak of mind, whereas with modern art, it doesn’t matter.” ( It’s just not serious! )

I replied, “This is true, but common sense will eventually prevail regardless, I believe. For the pursuit of excellence is still alive. It clearly exists in Sport. People can spin as much as they like about themselves, but the results must occur on the field.  And of course, those great ‘high standards’ in Art thrived and existed – 500 to 300 years BC in Greece, before the Greeks thought to invent the early Olympics. And well before today’s Olympics competitions began in 1896.

Olympic Speed Skater Paul Fitzgerald – Painted live at the World Cup in Oslo 

This was a very early portrait commission, 6 feet x 4 feet painted real in live training in Norway. Paul then made a small semi-circular plinth for this painting for public display afterwards, and I am happy to say it helped him to successfully raise monies for his Winter campaign.

Today, we can easily see a new growing need in general for new ‘standards’ in our products. An obvious example is furniture. Ten years ago people purchased flat-pack furniture, but gradually the need for real solid wood furniture increased, as people needed robust and attractive looking items, which did not look plastic and fall apart.

In the past people made things, so that a man was honoured, not because he happened to be rich, but according to his skill, and his strength and courage, and the number of things he could do. Today instead, we apparently need to be able to talk about what we do in an unheroic and immodest fashion.

In almost every sense it just comes back to this question of spin. As painters, sculptors, architects, designers, graphic designers, illustrators, cartoonists, fabric designers, jewellers, craftworkers, potters, florists, and other trades which may each use art. We all know perfectly well the standard of our own work by comparison to others, and naturally to past standards as well.

This is normal. For we need to know about our competitors. We need to know what we are doing and what we are not doing well. We can say this is just about our personal taste, our individualism, etc, but the minute you make something you are involved in an activity and there are standards, both good and poor, it is then up to you to acknowledge what you have made. The moment you fail to recognise this, and talk otherwise, it is just another matter of pointless spin. And eventually with progress, people will also recognise it as such.

I hope you have enjoyed,

With best wishes,


PS While in closing, I should like to thank our editor here for making these publications possible for us now.

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Photo of Rembrandt’s Night Watch courtesy of  of Web Gallery of Art via Art Renewal Centre.


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