Rembrandt van Rijn was one of the greatest draftsmen in the history of art. Because he usually regarded his drawings the way a novelist regards the ideas he jots down in his journal--as a purely private record of observations and feelings--they are often deceptively simple. Yet the very spontaneity and economy with which Rembrandt sketched his impressions make them dazzling to connoisseurs.
His production of drawings was as prolific as it was brilliant. About 1,400 attributed to him survive, and probably at least an equal number have been lost. The reasons for the loss, aside from fire, flood and negligence, may be divined from the drawings that remain. Rembrandt made relatively few preparatory studies for his paintings and even fewer highly finished "presentation" drawings - gifts for friends and admirers. Usually his drawings were unrelated to his major works and were, moreover, unsigned; only about 25 that bear his signature are known. Thus it is likely that inexperienced collectors, misled by the simplicity of the drawings and ignorant of their authorship, discarded them.
Experts estimate the dates of Rembrandt's drawings by studying his style the way he used his favorite media: red and black chalk, ink and quill or reed pen, brush and washes.