Rembrandt’s Personal Life

Unfortunately, despite how in demand he was in his public career during his lifetime, his family life was marked by misfortune. Between 1635 and 1641 his wife Saskia gave birth to four children, and only one, Titus, survived. The next year in 1642, she died at the age of 30.

After Saskia’s death, Rembrandt hired a widow named Geertje Dircx (1610 to 1656) as a wet nurse to care for his young son. She later became his common-law wife and the model for some of his artwork. But the relationship ended in disaster.

Dircx insisted on an actual marriage as his common-law wife, but to do so would mean that Rembrandt would lose an inheritance from his dead wife Saskia. So she ended up suing him for breach of contract and won a maintenance allowance of 200 guilders a year for the rest of her life, provided she remained Titus’s only heiress and sold none of Rembrandt’s possessions.

However, when it came time to sign the legal paperwork for the agreement, Dircx reportedly refused and wanted more money and possessions. For this action, Rembrandt had her imprisoned in 1650 at the women’s house of corrections in Gouda. She was sentenced to 12 years, but after becoming ill, she only served five and died a year after her release in 1656.

During this time, Rembrandt was involved in a new affair that he had with Hendrickje Stoffel (1626 to 1663), his new house keeper that he hired in 1649. She eventually became his second common-law wife and was the model for many of his portraits as well. The couple had a child that died as an infant, but their second child, a daughter named Cornelia, survived. In this year, he produced no dated work.

Despite Rembrandt’s financial success as an artist, teacher and art dealer, his overindulgent lifestyle forced him to declare bankruptcy in 1656. Examples of this was his 1649 breach-of-promise to Dircx when he was court-ordered to pay her 200 guilders annually, and another was in 1650 when he himself was detained at the Gouda house of Corrections for men for bad-business dealings.

In 1656, in an attempt to save his inheritance, Rembrandt transferred the title of his house to his son’s name, and his property was liquidated and his goods auctioned. Then he invested in cargo, but during transport it was lost at sea, including two of his paintings. In 1658, Rembrandt rented a house in the Rozengracht area of Amsterdam, an area where other artists lived. There he, Hendrickje, Titus and Cornelia lived together. In that year, Rembrandt painted himself seated in state like a monarch, and the self portrait was the last etching he ever did.

Rembrandt self-portrait, 1658

Rembrandt self-portrait, 1658; The Frick Collection

In 1660, his Amsterdam townhouse became a financial burden and he was forced to sell it. Centuries later in 1911, the Dutch made Rembrandt’s house into a museum, as a shrine and an example of 17th Century Dutch architecture.

Again Rembrandt had to declare bankruptcy due to his bad financial practices that year, and again lost his home and possessions. Now in his 50s, Rembrandt was forced to move back in with his family who were living in a small cottage on the outskirts of Amsterdam. There he continued to paint.

In December of that same year in 1660, Hendrickje and his son Titus took financial control over the remainder of Rembrandt’s assets. They put them in their names in trade for Rembrandt’s paintings, graphic art, engravings and other artworks. Rembrandt continued to paint and have pupils, but had no control over business matters, and Titus became the sole heir. That year, Rembrandt painted himself as the apostle Paul as a form of protest.