After his wife dies, the great painter falls into debt and is not allowed to marry his maid.
In 1642 Rembrandt van Rijn (Charles Laughton) buys colors for painting and flowers for his wife, who is ill. Rembrandt drinks and tells men how he loves all women in his wife. He learns that she died, and during the funeral feast he paints her from memory. Rembrandt presents his biggest painting; but people laugh and say it is too dark, and the civic guard officers portrayed complain. Rembrandt drinks at home with his student and housekeeper Geertje Dirx (Gertrude Lawrence).
Ten years later Rembrandt's son Titus van Rijn (John Bryning) learns that his father is bankrupt. A beggar (Roger Livesey) calls Rembrandt a bad painter, but Rembrandt borrows money to paint him. Geertje says that she will get Rembrandt to go to the prince. Rembrandt dresses the beggar as King Saul and Titus as David. Rembrandt tells the story of Saul and David and recites the 23rd Psalm. Geertje tells Rembrandt how broke they are and pleads he must go to the prince. The beggar teaches him how to beg; but Rembrandt says he can't beg properly. Rembrandt returns to his father's home in the country. He reads the Bible and eats black bread. At a dance Rembrandt kisses Elsa; but men object to a man from the city, and Rembrandt starts a brawl. Rembrandt dislikes working in his father's mill and returns to Amsterdam.
Rembrandt paints his maid Hendrickje (Elsa Lanchester). She cleans his workshop, and Geertje scolds her. Rembrandt says he wants to marry but is told he must give 20,000 florins of his wife's money to Titus. Hendrickje is charged with concubinage and is excommunicated. Rembrandt's furniture is auctioned, as he and Hendrickje move to a small house. Rembrandt sells a painting; but Titus says it belongs to his creditors. So Hendrickje sells it and says that Rembrandt is her employee. She is ill, and Rembrandt cooks for her. He asks Dr. Menasseh (Abraham Sofaer) how long she will live. Menasseh tells her to hire a servant and rest. Both Rembrandt and Hendrickje each tell Menasseh the other must not know. Rembrandt asks a minister to marry them soon. Rembrandt paints Hendrickje, and they recall the first time. Then she dies.
In his last year Rembrandt buys a fish and joins revelers with a painter, who sold his first painting. Rembrandt quotes Solomon's "All is vanity," and they laugh. Rembrandt is recognized and leaves, borrowing money for food. He buys art supplies and paints his self-portrait.
This drama is fairly accurate except Rembrandt did not die in poverty. Even though he was rather successful, this artist still had to struggle against debt for not pleasing patrons and for having two common-law wives.