Bathsheba is seated on a stone bench covered with carpets near a bathing pool in a garden. Squatting before her, an old woman with spectacles trims her toe-nails, and a servant standing behind her combs her hair. The light is concentrated on the nude figure of Bathsheba, and there are all sorts of glittering things nearby, a ewer, jewelry, and rich stuffs. In the background is foliage opening at the left where in the distance appears the royal palace, with the dim figure of King David on its roof. Two peacocks are in the shadow by the steps which lead to the pool, and on the stonework is the signature Rembrandt Ft. and the date 1643.
This is a famous picture and its history may be pretty closely followed from the early eighteenth century. Here is a list of the collections of which it is known to have formed a part, and the prices it has fetched in changing hands at public sales;
COLLECTION SOLD IN PRICE William Six Amsterdam, 1734 265 florins Heer Hendrick Amsterdam, 1740 350 florins Vann Zwieten The Hague, 1743 Comte de Brühl Dresden, 1763 Poullain Paris, 1780 2,400 francs Le Brun Paris, 1791 1,200 francs Alexis de la Hante London, 1814 105 pounds Sir Thomas Lawrence London, 1830 150 guineas G. J. Vernon London, 1831 153 guineas T. Emmerson . London, 1832 240 guineas Héris (Colonel de Biré, of Brussels) Paris, 1841 7,880 francs Steengracht (The Hague) Paris, 1913 1,000,000 francs
It is a record of a long wandering, from about ninety years after Rembrandt painted it, up to its journey’s end here in the Museum. It has passed from Holland to Germany, then to Paris, where two years before the Terror it sold for 1,200 francs-$240.00! It was taken to England with many other works during the Revolution, stayed there for more than sixty years before it returned to Paris, and thence returned to its old home in Holland. Then Mr. Altman bought it. It was his last purchase, arriving in New York a few months before his death.
Numerous engravings of the work exist; it is mentioned in all the lists and where comments occur it is always praised. The same subject, painted ten or eleven years later, is in the Louvre (Collection Lacaze). As Marcel Nicolle has pointed out, the attitude of Bathsheba is similar in both pictures, and in each the old pedicure kneels before her. But the picture in the Louvre could in no sense be called a replica of this work, as the arrangement is dissimilar, and also the expression.
Subject pictures by Rembrandt are rare in America. John G. Johnson showed at the Hudson-Fulton Exhibition a work of this class, The Finding of Moses, a painting of a few years earlier than ours, which has many analogies with it. There is also another, the Baucis and Philemon, formerly in the Yerkes Collection. For some reason or other the portraits have been more popular with American collectors, though to many Rembrandt’s genius is shown in its loftiest manifestation in the biblical or mythological subjects to which he has given such an intense reality and at the same time such a sense supernatural mystery.
Eugène Fromentin in commenting on these speaks of the unreal country of their setting, of the unreasonable costumes, of the little care for tradition or local truth which they display, but adds that by the power of creative force they have been given an expression that is general and typical. The truth of this is proved by the fact that when certain stories from the Bible come to mind, particularly those in which the human interest is uppermost, it is so often in the conceptions of Rembrandt that we picture them.