Gallery of prints for sale

Monday 8 October 2018

Jean Pierre Norblin de la Gourdaine’s etching (with drypoint), “The Little Philosopher”, 1776

Jean Pierre Norblin de la Gourdaine (aka Jean Pierre Norblin de la Gordaine) (1745–1830)

“The Little Philosopher”, 1776 (based on the date inscribed on the plate in an earlier state)
Etching and drypoint on ivory Japanese (wove) paper trimmed with narrow margins.
Size: (sheet) 8.1 x 9.1 cm; (plate) 7.8 x 8.9 cm
State iii after the erasure of the inscribed date of the first state and reduction in the size of the plate.

Hillemacher 1848 18.III

See also the descriptions of this print at:
The Minneapolis Institute of Art
The Art Institute of Chicago
The Rijksmuseum

Condition: richly inked and almost faultless impression trimmed with narrow margins around the platemark in near pristine condition (i.e. there are no tears, folds, holes, abrasions, stains or foxing).

I am selling this exceptionally rare and glowing etching by one of the most important artists of the Enlightenment in Poland for AU$326 (currently US$230.26/EUR200.51/GBP176.62 at the time of posting this print) including postage and handling to anywhere in the world (but not, of course, any import duties/taxes imposed by some countries).

If you are interested in purchasing this masterwork from the 1700s following in the tradition of Rembrandt, please contact me ( and I will send you a PayPal invoice to make the payment easy.

This print has been sold

Mindful that Jean Pierre Norblin de la Gourdaine is celebrated for his images showing the final years of Republic of the Two Nations (viz. the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania), this etching of a young boy may seem to be somewhat outside of what he is famous, in terms of portraying political unrest; see for example the bizarre execution scene in Norblin’s painting, “Hanging of Traitors”, 1794 (, where traitors in absentia (i.e. sensible folk who had fled the country) are symbolically hung at the gallows by their painted portrait raised in a noose.

From my way of looking at what is portrayed in this etching, however, the subject is far from being simply a portrait that the BM describes as a “[s]eated boy wearing a gown, three-quarter length, leaning against a table upon which are a quill, a skull, and book” ( After all, as the title of the print, “The little philosopher”, suggests, the boy is a light-hearted personification of the philosophical dilemma that all folk ultimately face: life is brief and we will die. Norblin has expressed this vanitas theme using the very obvious symbolic device of a skull “looking” at the boy as well as more subtle references to reflective thought such as the contemplative pose of the boy, the “blank” sheet of paper with a writing quill beside it and the ghost-like rendering of the shadow cast by the boy. For me, the treatment of this shadow is especially interesting, as I see the boldly hatched lines describing the shadow’s tone as creating a very different space to the pictorial/physical space that the boy occupies: a graphic representation of noetic space (i.e. the non-pictorial and non-physical space of contemplative thinking).

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