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Rembrandt’s painting, unique for him in its tender intimacy, shows a young woman almost up to her knees in a stream. She lifts her shift and looks down with a little smile of pleasure at the cool water rippling against her sturdy legs.
It has been suggested that the picture is a study for a biblical heroine in a much larger picture, but the plain shift the woman wears is enough to raise a doubt: such a heroine would have been richly dressed or nude. The most likely possibility is that Rembrandt knew and loved this quiet, gently absorbed woman and shared her delight in an unguarded moment of pleasure in some anonymous Dutch stream.
A Woman bathing in a Stream (Hendrickje Stoffels?)
Oil on oak
H 61.8 x W 47 cm
Holwell Carr Bequest, 1831