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The Large Bathers

Paul Cézanne, French, 1839 - 1906

Geography:
Made in aix en provance, France, Europe

Date:
1900-1906

Medium:
Oil on canvas

Dimensions:
82 7/8 x 98 3/4 inches (210.5 x 250.8 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Painting before 1900, Johnson Collection

Object Location:

* Gallery 164, European Art 1850-1900, first floor (Women´s Committee Gallery)

Accession Number:
W1937-1-1

Credit Line:
Purchased with the W. P. Wilstach Fund, 1937

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Label:
This is the largest, the last, and in many ways, the most ambitious work from Cézanne’s lifelong exploration of the time-honored theme of nudes in a landscape. It is also, perhaps, in its unfinished state, the purest and most serene witness to the man whom Paul Gauguin described as spending “entire days on mountaintops reading Virgil,” dreaming of wooded glades populated with beautiful figures who, if not exactly participants in a narrative as such, are full of animation and interaction. Perhaps it is its grand nobility—its authority as something beyond time, “like art in the museums,” as Cézanne said—that made it so attractive to many artists.

Additional information:
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections

    Near the end of his life Paul Cézanne painted three large canvases of female nudes disporting in a landscape. They derive in part from pastoral images of female bathers, such as the goddess Diana and her maidens, long favored in French art. These works seem to have been, for Cézanne, the culmination of a lifetime of exploration on the nude, his final testament within the grand tradition of French narrative painting on the nature of the human condition. They differ greatly from one another, these three paintings (the others are in the Barnes Foundation, Merion, Pennsylvania, and the National Gallery, London). The Philadelphia version, perhaps because of its unfinished state, is both the most exalted and the most serene. The women command a great stage, very much like goddesses in some grand opera production, with the arched trees acting as the proscenium. They are completely at ease, and for all the motion and activity there is a profound sense of eternal calm and resolution, as well as a quality of monumentality achieved through the most lucid and unlabored means. Joseph J. Rishel, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 211.
  • PublicationTwentieth-Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    This is the last and largest work among scores of paintings of nude bathers, male and female, made by Cézanne over the course of his lifetime. The monumental scene conveys a grand sense of synthesis, combining figures and landscape in a stagelike setting of towering proportion. For both the formal structure of the landscape and the company of awkward bathers, Cézanne drew upon art historical precedents and his own imagination rather than natural observation. The painter exposed his artifice in technique as well as composition: the vibrant surface exults in rich, swirling layers of blues and greens, generously applied to make the air as palpable an element as earth and foliage.

    Despite its grandeur, the painting has the feel of an unanswered question, a testament to the "anxiety" Picasso famously declared to be the source of his great interest in Cézanne. The artist left unresolved the startling contrast between the lushly painted landscape and the stiffly drawn, expressionless figures. A haunting stillness hovers over the scene, with its two mysterious figures in the background; an air of disquiet is signaled by a swimmer's interruption of the pond's calm surface. The painting's final state remains unfinished, revealed particularly in the seated figure at the lower right whose long arms betray their previous identity as two legs ready to depart the scene.

    Painted at the very end of Cézanne s life, The Large Bathers revisits his own creative history and invokes his countless hours of studying and copying the masterpieces at the Louvre. The assembly of bathers calls to mind scenes of mythical goddesses more readily than modern French women, and the mood suggests a ritual rather than a picnic. Notwithstanding its deep roots in the past, the painting's pictorial daring is unparalleled, and today The Large Bathers appears as the opening scene to the artistic drama of the twentieth century. Twentieth Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2000), p. 19.

Provenance

Estate of Paul Cézanne, 1906; purchased by Ambroise Vollard, Paris from Cézanne's son, 1907; Auguste Pellerin (1852-1929), Paris, by 1923; by descent to his son Jean-Victor Pellerin, Paris, 1929-1936 [1]; with Wildenstein & Co., New York, acting as agent for Pellerin, 1936 [2]; purchased by the City of Philadelphia with the W. P. Wilstach Fund, July 6, 1937 [3]. 1. Lent by M. and Mme. Pellerin to the 1936 exhibition "Cézanne", Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris, no. 107. 2. Provenance per John Rewald, The Paintings of Paul Cézanne: A Catalogue Raisonné, New York, 1996, no. 857. See also Joseph Rishel, Cézanne in Philadelphia Collections, Philadelphia, 1983, p. xvi. 3. Copy of dated receipt in registrar file.


* Works in the collection are moved off view for many different reasons. Although gallery locations on the website are updated regularly, there is no guarantee that this object will be on display on the day of your visit.

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