At the Courtauld

John-Paul Stonard

In his biography of the painter Chaïm Soutine, Monroe Wheeler tells the story of Soutine’s obsession with Rembrandt’s Woman Bathing of 1654, which shows his wife, Hendrickje Stoffels, standing in a pool of water, gingerly hitching up her skirt. Rather than copy the original, Soutine took the unorthodox approach of restaging the scene and painting his own version first-hand. After ‘wearisome research’ in the countryside around Chartres, Soutine found a peasant woman in a field, whom he persuaded to stand in a small pool for days on end while he worked. Even when a storm broke out he refused to let the woman move. ‘The rain fell, the thunder rolled … but Soutine went on working. At last he came to his senses and was surprised to find himself drenched to the skin, and the model in hysterical tears, shaking with cold and fright.’

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