Rembrandt’s status as an artist had occasionally fluctuated since his death, but in the nineteenth century he gained renewed popularity, particularly in France. His realistic, unidealized approach to subject matter and his remarkable skills as both a painter and printmaker were highly valued in post-revolutionary France, often serving as an alternative model to the idealized, state-sponsored art of the Academy.
By the 1850s the Louvre held more than fifteen paintings by Rembrandt and many of his drawings and prints. A growing number of biographies and systematic catalogues of his work also appeared, as did innumerable copies of his prints. All these factors contributed to Rembrandt’s reputation as one of the greatest artistic geniuses in the history of European art, a belief that developed just as Degas was establishing his own artistic identity.
Cardon was the son of an artist, and at an early age he copied Rembrandt’s 1636 self-portrait etching with his wife, Saskia. He later established himself as a printmaker and publisher in London in the 1790s. Here the framing device suggests that the image was intended as an illustration of the original, rather than a stand-in for it.