Gustave Courbet’s “The Bathers” is a painting that caused a scandal when it was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1853. The artwork features two women who are partially naked, without any mythological justification or rhetoric. Critics viewed the painting as controversial because of its stark contrast between lights and darks and described it as a “piece of meat on a butcher block.”
Courbet is considered the father of Realism in 19th-century painting, challenging classical styles and subject matter. He employed spontaneous brushstrokes and roughness in paint texture, which indicated he was observing his subjects directly from life, contrasting academic ideas about how art should be painted. However, these practices led to controversy at the Paris Salon and affected Courbet’s reputation.
Despite this backlash, “The Bathers” depicted physical truth accurately accounts of mid-century French rural life by featuring non-classical treatment of nudes amid landscape backgrounds devoid of heroic trappings or mythical glory. Courbet continued to use traditional themes such as women bathing during the 1860s until his death in 1877.