We see an attractive woman wading through the water and carefully raising her chemise. But who is this lady? Is it Susanna, the Old Testament heroine? Or was she modelled on Rembrandt’s lover? Opinions differ.
We see an attractive woman wading through the water and carefully raising her chemise. But who is this lady? Is it Susanna, the Old Testament heroine? Or was she modelled on Rembrandt’s lover? Opinions differ.Suggestion of eroticism At a time when other artists started painting in a much smoother style, in which each object was clearly depicted, Rembrandt chose a totally different approach. In this period, his brushstrokes became freer and he made do with a few daubs of paint to depict clothes, faces and hands. The portrait is nothing but a suggestion in paint. The young woman is completely absorbed in her own world. After draping her robe over a stone bank behind her, she is dressed scantily in a white chemise, which she lifts slightly while wading through a shallow pool. The scene takes place in a dark setting, lending it even more excitement.
Art historians think that the Old Testament heroine Susanna may be depicted here. She is alone, without servants. The fashionable clothes she has just taken off are laid out behind her. The story goes that two elders came to the house of Susanna’s rich husband for a business meeting, where they saw Susanna in the garden. After spying on her for a while, their lust was stirred. They decided to hide until she was alone. When the time was ripe, they threw themselves on Susanna and demanded that she submit to them. Susanna wanted no part in it and refused. The men then accused her publicly of committing adultery with a young lover.
It is thought that Rembrandt’s lover, Hendrickje Stoffels, modelled for the bathing woman. The theme has clear correlations to what was happening in Rembrandt’s own life. The panel was painted in the year that Rembrandt and Hendrickje had a daughter, Cornelia. As they were not married, the elders of the church accused Hendrickje of fornication, which was the accusation levelled at Susanna by the biblical elders. Through this portrait, Rembrandt could have been giving his view of the allegations made by the church.
In all aspects of the bathing woman, there is a suggestion of something that viewers have to fill in themselves
On this portrait, too, we think we can identify Rembrandt’s lover Hendrickje Stoffels. But we cannot know for certain.
Over het schilderij
- A Woman bathing in a Stream, 1654
- Oil on panel, 61.8 x 47 cm
- The National Gallery, London
On display at the ‘Late Rembrandt’ exhibition will be more than a hundred works created during the last phase of Rembrandt’s life. To get you in the mood, here are twelve works included in this spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime exhibition.
Self Portrait with Two Circles, ca. 1665-1669
Rembrandt made many self-portraits during his career. What makes this one so notable is his ruthless honesty in portraying himself.Read more
Bathsheba with King David’s Letter, 1654
This is one of the most famous paintings hanging in Louvre. Here we see a beautiful young woman bathing. She has just read a letter and now finds herself in a dilemma.Read more
The Jewish Bride, ca. 1665
What you immediately notice about this large painting is Rembrandt’s rough application of paint. In this work, Rembrandt broke with all conventions of the day by smeering on and scratching through the paint.Read more
Recumbent Lion, ca. 1660-1665
Rembrandt preferred to draw lifelike representations of things he saw around him in real life. This lion is a good example.Read more
The Family Portrait, ca. 1665
‘The Family Portrait’ has not travelled since 1956. Just for this once, it is on loan to the Rijksmuseum especially for this exhibtion.Read more
A Young Woman sleeping, ca. 1654
This drawing of a woman taking a quick nap is very typical of Rembrandt: an artist who was always recording the little scenes in his everyday life.Read more
Jacob blessing the sons of Joseph, 1656
When painting this Biblical story about Jacob, Rembrandt chose an unexpected moment that must have been a surprising choice for viewers of his day.Read more
Titus at his Desk, 1655
Rembrandt made clever use of painting techniques to evoke a sense of endearment when viewing this work in which we can recognise his own son.Read more
The Syndics, 1662
A meeting of five important inspectors of the Amsterdam drapers’ guild behind a table. Rembrandt turned this meeting into a visually exciting scene.Read more
The conspiracy of the Batavians under Claudius Civilis, ca. 1661-1662
In this painting, Rembrandt made use of a clever and entirely new technique to tell a story.Read more
Portrait of Frederick Rihel on Horseback, ca. 1663
As an artist, Rembrandt was familiar with the rules of portraiture but he pushed the boundaries whenever possible.Read more
A Woman bathing in a Stream, 1654
Here we see an alluring woman wading through the water while slowly lifting the hem of her dress. But who is this beauty?Read more