This is a story about an artist who rose to great heights of fame and fortune only to die penniless and alone, buried in anonymity in a pauper's grave. But you'd never know it by the way his native land is crowning him with laurel leaves now. The artist is Rembrandt and ArtTimes reports that the Netherlands is calling 2019 “The Year of Rembrandt” in celebration of the 350th anniversary of his death. Exhibit halls throughout the country are showing his work, including the Rijksmuseum, which holds the largest collection - 22 paintings, 60 drawings and 300 prints. Despite such nationwide attention, key parts of his story are either unmentioned or are glossed over.

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Telling the whole story

Even with a lengthy write-up in The Guardian about his private life headlined “Rembrandt and Saskia: A Love Story for the Ages” you don't get the life lived. If the Dutch want to fully celebrate him, they ought to own up to the rejection he suffered when he painted them the way he saw them rather than the way they wanted to be seen. And since it's the anniversary of his death celebrated, the Dutch ought to start with that moment and work back to his beginning. How else to make known that his life was a tragic one.

To that end, they might want to read what the Dutch-American historian Hendrik Van Loon had to say on the subject in his 1937 work “The Arts.” It's well known that Van Gogh had a crappy time of it, but at least he had his brother Theo to support him. Rembrandt has no one.

The beginning of the end

To hear Van Loon tell it, Rembrandt not only lost Saskia, the love of his life (she died from tuberculosis soon after giving birth to their son), he also watched the son slowly die from the same disease because he was unable to afford care. As well, his eyesight became seriously affected by the endless hours spent over his copperplates.

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So while there was a time he enjoyed success; that was, as Van Loon put it, “as long as he was willing to paint his fashionable neighbors in a way which flattered them.“

The house of Rembrandt came crashing down

Even Rembrandt's life in his hometown of Amsterdam was a sorry one. When a woman he hired to look after his infant son also modeled for him and ultimately moved in with him, “Amsterdam was horrified,” said Van Loon. The townspeople saw the situation as adulterous and made certain that he would never have another customer.

He swiftly went into debt after that with creditors, usurers with promissory notes, and holders of first, second and third mortgages swooping down on him.

And in the year 1657, the house of Rembrandt was sold for debt. So was the furniture, the paintings, and etchings - everything that could possibly remind him of his glory days when Saskia had been there to share his fame - was sold. Tell that story, Netherlands, and then say you're sorry.