A misunderstood picture? …
The figures in the picture are awarded varying degrees of prominence. The fact that some of them had all but disappeared, obscured through coats of yellowed varnish and layers of dirt, helped give rise to the legend that when Rembrandt completed the picture it was rejected by the company that had commissioned it, hence ruining his career and beginning his long decline into poverty and obscurity.
This decline in worldly success did occur,though it had little to do with Rembrandt’s power as an artist. The reasons are found elsewhere. There appears to be no factual circumstances to support the legend that “Night Watch” was a disaster in the painter’s career.
The introduction of incidental figures,such as the girl conspicuous in a pool of light, was by the same legend, regarded as arbitrary on the artist’s part. He was supposed to have used these figures as convenient elements, despite their extraneous relation to the shooting company whose members had paid to have their likenesses recorded for posterity. Later, people began to realize that these figures had emblematic significance.
One problem is that the canvas at some time was cut down on all four sides, crowding the figures at left and right, whereby the two central figures become too obviously centered, as originally they were off-center. The original placement in the composition emphasized the feeling of movement and excitement created by the diagonal movement of the composition, something experts say was a similar device found in Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa.