This week, we take a closer look at two depictions of sleep. On the left we see Rembrandt’s early painting Sleeping old man, from 1629. Rembrandt made this painting when he was living in Leiden, and it is a good example of the clair-obscur that Rembrandt would master during his career. The painting is executed with a very dark palette; we mostly see different shades of black. The brightly lit face of the man forms a strong contrast with his dark clothing. The man is sound asleep, his head resting on his left hand, his mouth slightly opened. It has been suggested that the depiction of this man sleeping is a symbol for sloth. On the far left, we can see a small fireplace, beautifully executed with stroke of bright red paint.
Dalí’s painting shows us a complete different version of deep sleep. First of all, the palette in which it is executed is the opposite of Rembrandt’s; the background is executed in pastel colours, fading into deeper colours of blue and black towards the edges of the painting. Dalí demonstrates in this painting the transition from consciousness to surrendering to sleep. The artist said the following about this artwork: “I have often imagined the monster of sleep as a heavy, giant head with a tapering body held up by the crutches of reality. When the crutches break we have the sensation of falling.”
Rembrandt, Sleeping Old Man, 1629 (Galleria Sabauda, Turin) and Salvador Dalí, Le sommeil (Sleep), 1937 (Private Collection)