The Rembrandt Pupil Project

Although the Dutch painter René Klarenbeek, after finishing his study in Den Haag at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in 1987, has worked world-wide as an independent artist (see:, he continued to experience it as a gap in his education that he was never really taught how to paint.

In 1975, when René was eleven years old, his father took him to the splendid painting collection of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. For the first time the young boy was confronted with some of Rembrandt’s best paintings – and he was shocked. Standing in front of the famous self-portrait (posing as the Apostle Paul) from 1661, the young boy couldn’t help staring in awe at Rembrandt’s eyes, which in return seemed to stare back at him. While this sudden wave of admiration triggered off his own artistic ambition and what finally would become his professional destiny, the young boy, looking up with both hands in his pockets, daringly promised the old man’s oil painted eyes that one day he would become even better.

The REMBRANDT PUPIL PROJECT, inaugurated in 2004, was primarily initiated for the sake of his own private development, René Klarenbeek also intends to contribute to a re-instalment of a both thorough as well as humble one-on-one study with the master-of-choice. An ambitious pupil should be both eager as well as patient enough by eating the crumbs of his master’s table. Like a faithful – and sometimes obstinate – pupil should, René Klarenbeek still is exploring all possible ranges between imitatio and aemulatio around Rembrandt’s inspiring example.

Old methods and original materials are used and even reconstructed to enable him to return to the basis of the crafts, attitude and spirit of Rembrandt’s own artistic production – and that of what is called his ‘school’. Like in Rembrandt’s time, the tasks of this 21st century pupil will consist of continuous painting and drawing exercises. Next to that, following original recipes, he will also faithfully commit himself to more ordinary craftsman-like studio activities, such as grinding various pigments in oils, producing varnishes and inks from natural ingredients, cutting reeds and quills, stretching linen and priming canvases and panels.

In the 17th century situation it was a very common studio practice for the more advanced pupils to faithfully copy and even make ambitious variations of the master’s most successful works. In the past years the REMBRANDT PUPIL PROJECT has contributed to the revitalisation of almost completely disappeared academic tradition of self-study – as close to the source as possible – inside several museums and collections containing original Rembrandts. By providing their kind hospitality and practical cooperation, several of these highly valued partners have made their indispensable contribution to this artistic research project, for which sincere thanks are due.

Although becoming better than the master is no longer his over-competitive and rather futile aim, a continued step-by-step journey of disciplined self study will, hopefully, get René Klarenbeek closer towards the painter he always wanted to become. However, continuing working in Rembrandt’s visual language has never been his goal, but was intended as a means to find his own by at the same time increasing his competences.

All results of this pupil’s study efforts will be thoroughly documented and subsequently displayed on this website.