Photographer / Author

The Conversation—photographic serendipity

When I was a very young child I knew this painting because it appeared on the top of several cigar boxes in which I stored all manner of personal treasures. Those were Dutch Masters Cigar boxes and although no one in my immediate family smoked cigars, these boxes were readily available for free from numerous cigar shops.

The name of the painting is De Staalmeesters (The Syndics). It was painted by Rembrandt in 1662 and hangs today in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. It’s certain that Rembrandt never benefited from his painting’s commercial use, for he was long deceased before the G.H. Johnson Cigar Company began producing its cigars in the early twentieth century. The brand probably reached its height of public recognition with its sponsorship of Ernie Kovaks’ TV shows in the 1950s and 60s.

I got to see the original Rembrandt canvas on October 12 while visiting the Rijksmuseum all to briefly. It’s an incredible place. I had no idea the painting was as large as it is, so when I decided to make a picture of it, I waited for someone to position themselves in front of it as a scale reference. And when this woman with her heavy blonde braid walked into the scene, I was ready to take advantage of the opportunity. That she positioned herself where she did and cocked her head as if engaged in conversation with the subjects was serendipity and more than I could have expected. It’s a very simple picture and possibly the best picture I brought home from my visit to the Rijksmuseum.

I find it interesting that many European museums don’t prohibit the use of cameras. On the other hand, when I visited the Amsterdam flower market, there were signs prohibiting photography everywhere. Go figure.

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