The Bather (Paul Cézanne, 1885)

The Bather - Paul Cezanne - 1885-1887

Artwork Information

TitleThe Bather
ArtistPaul Cezanne
MediumOil on Canvas
Dimensions50 x 38 1/8 in
Art MovementNew Realism
Current LocationThe Museum of Modern Art, New York
Location Created France

About The Bather

Paul Cézanne painted The Bather in oil on canvas in 1885. This painting is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

What is depicted in the Bather?      

The painting shows a male figure in the exterior in a standing pose, positioned frontally. 

The Bather – Analysis       

In Cézanne’s work, the theme of Bathers is present from the mid-1870s until the very end of his life. At the beginning of his painting career, Cézanne often stayed in the Louvre and studied the works of the great masters. Researchers often claim that it is precisely in this series of paintings that Cézanne’s dedication to the study of classical sculpture can be seen.  Cézanne writes in a letter to Émile Bernard from 12 May 1904 –  The Louvre is a good book to consult, but it should be only a means. The real, prodigious study to undertake is the diversity of the scene offered by nature.  

About Pastoral Painting 

Pastoral painting has a very long tradition in European art. This painting is based on the concept of an idealized experience of nature. In addition to the idealization of the space itself, the object of idealization was also the stay of people in such an environment. Numerous paintings representing mythological and allegorical themes often incorporated a pastoral element. This harmonious concept of nature was often based on the famous region of Arcadia. This historical region, part of the central Peloponnese, had an important place in Greek mythology. As a space ruled by the god Pan, it was a theme for the poets of classical Greece and later in the Renaissance. In the history of painting, the long unbreakable connection between painting and poetry was based on the principle from Horace’s Ars Poetica – Ut pictura poesis. Numerous important examples of narrative painting with pastoral elements, on the principle of Ut pictura poesis, were painted on the basis of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Mythical representations of bathers in European Renaissance painting were created by Palma Vecchio, Titian, Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt, and many others. 

Paul Cézanne, The Bather (detail), 1885, oil on canvas, 127×96.8 cm, Museum of Modern Art, New York

Theodore Rousseau analyzed this composition in Paul Cézanne: All through his life Cezanne studied the figure and wanted to master it. When he was not copying paintings in the Louvre, he was sketching statues like The Slaves of Michelangelo or the Milo of Puget. Sometimes he sketched his own friends or soldiers bathing. However, owing probably to his extreme shyness, he refused to hire models. This made it impossible for him to analyze the human body as thoroughly as he did the forms of inanimate objects, which he could keep before him indefinitely. This Bather is full of contrasting elements. It is realistic in the painting of the bathing trunks, the awkward anatomy, and differences in skin color. Some of the forms, such as the head, the shoulders and arms, are simplified almost to the abstract, and Cezanne has concentrated on reducing certain shapes to near geometric forms, the spaces between the arms and the body, for instance. The resulting effect, in spite of a certain hesitating and awkward quality, is serious and strong and leads us to believe that if he had attained the ideal for which he was striving, it might have had some resemblance to a Greek statue of the archaic period. 

Paul Cézanne, The Bather (detail), 1885, oil on canvas, 127×96.8 cm, Museum of Modern Art, New York

Related Artworks      

Paul Cézanne did paintings of female and male bathers in series. One of the more complex compositions of male bathers is the Group of Bathers created between 1892 and 1894. This painting is in the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia.

Other Artwork from Paul Cezanne

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