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Woman bathing her feet at a brook.
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Woman bathing her feet at a brook.
Work Type
prints, etchings, works on paper
etching and drypoint
Plate: 80mm (width), 161mm (height), Support: 83mm (width), 161mm (height), Frame: 435mm (width), 485mm (height)

During his lifetime, Rembrandt's extraordinary skills as a printmaker were the main source of his international fame. Unlike his oil paintings, prints travelled light and were relatively cheap. For this reason, they soon became very popular with collectors not only within, but also beyond the borders of the Netherlands, and it also explains why, three centuries later, they were affordable for Wellington collector and philanthropist Sir John Ilott, who presented 37 Rembrandt prints to the National Art Gallery between 1952 and 1969.

A woman bathing her feet at a brook is puzzling when you look at it carefully, and it reveals how far Rembrandt has travelled from meticulous Dutch realism by his late career (it dates from 1658, eleven years before his death). The nude would have posed in his studio; we clearly recognise the back of her chair and the large, tassled cushion. Yet weirdly, we can also discern foliage near her head, while the foreground zone denotes the brook of the title. Rembrandt has thus imaginatively transported the nude from his studio to an outdoor setting. While viewers at the time probably thought of classical precedents like Diana, or Biblical ones like Susannah, Rembrandt deliberately withholds any obvious symbolism. There is a further paradox between who and what the viewer beholds and the nude's apparent unawareness of our presence and gaze. This is emphasised by her face, plunged in inky shadow. It may be pushing it to claim there is a whiff of voyeurism; but this etching certainly made an impact some 200 years later on Impressionist artist Edgar Degas and his brilliant but disturbing studies of women at their toilette. An artist's artist then is Rembrandt - and a very modern one too.

This etching is from the first of two states, before the reworking of shadows with cross-hatching in the Parisian workshop of Henri Louis Basan (1797-c. 1809). It is, however, a later impression, without darkly printed rough plate edges, and with accidental scratches in the lighter patch at upper centre.

References: New Hollstein Dutch 309, 1st of 2 states; Hollstein Dutch 200, only state.

See also: David Maskill, 'Rembrandt van Rijn 1606-69 Netherlands', in William McAloon (ed.) Art at Te Papa (Wellington: Te Papa Press, 2009), p. 33.

Dr Mark Stocker Curator, Historical International Art August 2017

Collection: Art
Gift of Sir John Ilott, 1952
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Image and original data provided by Museum of New Zealand - Te Papa Tongarewa
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