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Girl at a Window

Painted in 1645 when the Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-69) was thirty-nine years of age, this painting falls somewhere between a genre picture and a portrait. Leaning on a stone ledge, the girl wears a loose-fitting white blouse edged with gold braid, her curls tucked under a small cap. The girl’s identity remains uncertain; in the past she has been described as a courtesan, a Jewish bride, and as an historical or Biblical figure. It is more widely accepted that she is a servant girl. Her rosy complexion along with her tanned arms implies that she works outdoors. Striking is the directness of the girl’s gaze, the faint hint of a smile hovering around her lips. She looks straight at the viewer, drawing them into the picture; a fact underlined by the gesture she makes with her left hand, where she simultaneously fiddles with her necklace and points towards herself.

The confident brushstrokes and thickly applied paint (a technique known as impasto) found in this painting are typical of Rembrandt’s style of the 1640s, when the artist often applied his paint with palette knives as well as his fingers. Raised areas of paint can be found most notably at the girl’s cheeks, coloured with rosy-pink daubs. These three-dimensional areas push the girl, quite literally, into the space of the viewer and would have caught the light – enlivening the paint surface. Rembrandt’s subtle use of light within the painting, such as the dot of white paint reflecting on the tip of the girl’s nose, also brings her forwards, out of the shadows. A frequently quoted account by the French art theorist and early owner of the work, Roger de Piles (1635-1709), claimed that Rembrandt put this painting in the window of his large house in Amsterdam and passers-by mistook it for a real girl. While this story was not strictly true, it serves as a general comment on Rembrandt's ability to create realistic portraits that could visually arrest his viewers.

Related artworks

Currently on display

Rembrandt van Rijn
Gallery 5
81.8 x 66.2 cm
Oil on canvas
Signed and dated, lower right: 'Rembrandt/ ft. 1645'
Bourgeois Bequest, 1811
Accession number