The Night Watch by Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn is completed in 1642, at the peak of the Dutch Golden Age, it is one of the most famous paintings in the world.
It is a group portrait of a militia company. These were groups of able-bodied men who, if the need arose, could be called upon to defend the city or put down riots.
The painting is an oil painting on a canvas that depicts the company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq and his lieutenant, Willem van Ruytenburgh, surrounded by sixteen of their men.
The painting is renowned for 3 characteristics: its colossal size (363 cm × 437 cm (11.91 feet × 14.34 feet)),the effective use of light and shadow , and the perception of motion in what would have traditionally been a static military portrait.
The Night Watch was hung in the Kloveniersdoelen in Amsterdam until 1715 when it was moved to the Town Hall. In 1808 it was transferred to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam where it is still located today.
The Night Watch have two more names: “Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq” and “The Shooting Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch“.
The night watch title, which was not given by the artist, was first applied at the end of the 18th century.
For much of its existence, the painting was coated with a dark varnish which gave the incorrect impression that it depicted a night scene, leading to the name Night Watch. This dark varnish was removed only in the 1940s.
Rembrandt was at the height of his career when he received the commission to paint the Night Watch for the Kloveniersdoelen, the guild hall that housed the Amsterdam civic guard company of arquebusiers, or musketeers.
Rembrandt did not confine himself to a single technique. Some elements are worked out in minute detail, while in other places he seems to have applied the paint very thickly. Technically it is a masterly piece of work.
Unlike other Baroque portraits of militia companies, which traditionally portrayed members lined up in neat rows or sitting at a banquet, Rembrandt’s painting shows the company fully equipped, ready for action, and about to march.
The picture was a huge success at the time, not least because it turns a fairly humdrum subject into a dynamic work of art.
He must have been given the commission in 1639 or soon afterwards. It is no coincidence that Rembrandt bought an expensive house at precisely this time.
It is very easy to miss him amidst this bustling company of distinguished men, but in the middle of the painting, behind a man in green and a guard with a metal helm, you can spot a barely-there man. Only his eye and a beret are visible, but this elusive figure is believed to be how Rembrandt wedged himself into his most famous work.
The painting was vandalized several times. On 13 January 1911, an unemployed navy cook tried to cut it with a knife, but could not cut through the thick varnish on the painting.In 1975, William de Rijk, an unemployed school teacher, cut dozens of zigzag lines in the painting with a knife before he was wrestled by the guards. In 1990, a man threw acid on the painting. The guards managed to quickly dilute it with water so that it penetrated only the varnish layer, and the painting was restored again.
In 1939 when World War II began, it was moved to Medemblik, and rolled into a cylinder form. The painting was brought back to Rijksmuseum when the war ended.
A persistent misconception is that Rembrandt’s decline in popularity was due to a negative public reception of the painting.
It is impossible to attach a monetary value to this work.