Indiscretion: Cheated on his wife while on her deathbed; had his mistress arrested.
By Rembrandt’s late twenties, he was already a relatively popular artist and was making quite a good living for himself. However, when he married the wealthy heiress, Saskia van Uylenburgh in June of 1634, Rembrandt expected his finances to take a substantial turn for the better. They did…for a while until Rembrandt’s in-laws accused the painter of excessive splurging and took legal action to pull back his spending before he wiped out their daughter completely.
Needless to say, Saskia’s parents were not fans of the painter and Rembrandt did very little to get back in their good graces. While still on the outs with his in-laws, Saskia fell ill after giving birth to their only surviving child, Titus. Unable to nurse, the couple hired a wet nurse, Geertje Dircx, to care for Titus until Saskia recovered. Unfortunately, Saskia only got worse and in her deathly ill state, Rembrandt felt it was a good time to begin an affair with Geerje.
After his wife’s death, Rembrandt carried on his relationship with Geerje in secret for over six years. The painter kept the relationship clandestine to prevent any difficulties in receiving his wife’s inheritance, but understandably, Geerje became impatient and increasingly hostile toward Rembrandt and his refusal to legitimate their relationship.
She began acting out in public, accusing Rembrandt of being a money hungry philanderer. She revealed to anyone that would listen, the couple’s sordid love affair as Rembrandt’s wife lay dying in the other room and his refusal to marry her out of fear of losing Saskia’s precious inheritance.
Given the situation, one might advise Rembrandt to, you know, lay low. However, instead, he began another relationship with a woman twenty years his junior, Hendrickje Stoffels. Upon learning this, Geerje became enraged. She sued Rembrandt, claiming he promised to marry her and pawned Saskia’s jewelry to pay for the legal costs. Although, furious that Geerje would sell his dead wife’s jewelry, Rembrandt knew he had to keep this whole scandal under wraps; if Saskia’s parents got wind of this, his inheritance would be gone for sure. He tried to settle with Geerje out of court, offering her a yearly stipend to keep her mouth shut. Geerje got greedy however, wanting not only more money, but to publicly humiliate her ex-lover. Geerje actually won the breach of promise suit and Rembrandt was ordered to pay her a monthly stipend he could in no way afford. Ultimately, Geerje’s greed would turn fatal as Rembrandt was still well connected; he conspired to have Geerje committed under the grounds that she was delusional. She was sentenced to 12 years but after contracting a terminal disease in the insane asylum, she was released after 5 and died a year later.
Unfortunately for Rembrandt, Saskia’s parents were on to him. They began a legal campaign against the painter, wanting all van Uylenburgh money paid back to the family. They even managed to have Rembrandt’s second mistress, Hendrickje, arrested and charged with living in sin. Due to the battery of legal costs, Rembrandt, despite his efforts, died heavily in debt.