Why in 1656 was rembrandt forced to declare bankruptcy?

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In 1656, the renowned Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn was forced to declare bankruptcy. This event marked a significant turning point in his life and career. Rembrandt, who was widely celebrated for his artistic talent and had enjoyed considerable success, found himself in a dire financial situation that led to this drastic measure. This article delves into the reasons behind Rembrandt’s bankruptcy in 1656 and explores the circumstances that contributed to his financial downfall.

Financial Mismanagement and Overspending

Living beyond his means: One of the primary reasons for Rembrandt’s bankruptcy was his extravagant lifestyle and overspending. He had a penchant for luxury, collecting art, and acquiring rare objects. His spending habits exceeded his income, leading to mounting debts.

Art market decline: During the 1650s, the art market in the Netherlands experienced a significant downturn. This decline in demand for artwork affected Rembrandt’s ability to sell his paintings and earn a substantial income. As a result, his financial situation deteriorated rapidly.

Death of his wife: In 1642, Rembrandt’s beloved wife, Saskia van Uylenburgh, passed away. Her death not only left him devastated emotionally but also resulted in the loss of her substantial wealth. Saskia had brought a significant dowry into their marriage, which had helped support Rembrandt financially.

Legal battles and lawsuits: Rembrandt was involved in several legal disputes during this period, which further drained his finances. He faced lawsuits from creditors and had to pay substantial sums to settle these legal matters. These legal battles added to his mounting debts and financial woes.

Art Market Shifts and Changing Tastes

Shift in artistic preferences: The 1650s witnessed a shift in artistic tastes, with a growing preference for more classical and restrained styles. Rembrandt’s bold and innovative approach to painting, characterized by his use of dramatic lighting and expressive brushwork, fell out of favor with patrons and collectors. This change in taste contributed to a decline in demand for his work and a subsequent decrease in income.

Competition from other artists: Rembrandt faced increasing competition from other talented artists of the time, such as Johannes Vermeer and Jan Steen. These artists gained popularity and attracted patrons, further diminishing Rembrandt’s market share and financial prospects.


Rembrandt’s bankruptcy in 1656 was the result of a combination of factors. His financial mismanagement, overspending, personal tragedies, legal issues, and the changing art market all played a role in his downfall. Despite his immense talent and previous success, Rembrandt’s inability to adapt to the shifting art market and his extravagant lifestyle ultimately led to his financial ruin.


– Encyclopedia Britannica: www.britannica.com
– National Gallery of Art: www.nga.gov
– The Rembrandt House Museum: www.rembrandthuis.nl