The Bathers, 1894-1905
Pen and brown ink, pencil on paper, H. 115 mm; W. 200 mm
Label on the verso: Kunsthaus Zürich / Künstler : P. Cézanne / Titel : Baigneuses (Federzeichnung) / Besitzer : Frau Dr. M. Feilchenfeldt / Katalog-Nr. : 176.
Provenance: Collection Marianne Feilchenfeldt, Zürich.
Between the end of the 1860s and his death in 1906, Cézanne created over 200 paintings, watercolours and drawings on the theme of bathers. At the end of his life, this work was crowned by the creation of three ambitious paintings, The Bathers (Les Grandes Baigneuses). The first two pictures are now at the National Gallery, London and the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. The third, which is slightly different due to its almost square format and deeper composition, remained unfinished in Cézanne’s studio in Aix-en-Provence, and is now at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Our drawing is related to the development of these compositions on which Cézanne seems to have worked simultaneously from 1894.
With this subject of female nudes in a landscape, Cézanne has continued a long artistic tradition from the Italian Renaissance while also revealing the resolutely modern aspect of his art. Without reference to any mythological or literary context, the artist has arranged his figures in a wooded space at the edge of the water. He has gone overtaken the accomplishments of the Renaissance, in other words linear perspective and the exaltation of the beauty of the body modelled by light. His forms are subjected to the composition; they melt into the landscape and create a formal harmony with it. Drawn with pen and ink, our figures remain less frozen and less abstract than those of the paintings of The Bathers. However, in our drawing, the same density can be seen as in the painted compositions: no air circulates around the figures, the background seems to be blocked by an approaching sky. All the elements are brought to the same plane. Cézanne has thus created pictorial space that is no longer a simple imitation of the real and instead begins to seriously question the entire Western tradition. Cézanne’s questioning was to be a major source for the Cubist movement developed by Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso. Among others, the painting of The Bathers now at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, bought by Ambroise Vollard in 1907, greatly impressed Picaasso when it was exhibited the same year and influenced his Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907).