The Bather

Alexander Porfirevich Archipenko, American (born Ukraine), 1887 - 1964

Made in France, Europe


Oil paint, graphite, paper, and metal on panel

20 x 11 1/2 inches (50.8 x 29.2 cm)

© Estate of Alexander Archipenko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Curatorial Department:
Modern Art

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950

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Exempt from military duty because of an impaired leg, Alexander Archipenko spent World War I (1914-1918) in Nice, and his sudden preoccupation with intense color and soft, golden light can be seen as a direct result of his stay in this sun-drenched Mediterranean resort. Lacking the proper facilities for making large-scale sculpture, the artist turned to what he called "sculpto-painting," a collage medium in low relief. While this female bather was undoubtedly inspired by real-life swimmers that Archipenko would have seen on the beach during his time in Nice, the presence of a delicately shaded classical column imbues the composition with a timeless quality.

Additional information:
  • PublicationTwentieth-Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    The Bather is a tour de force among the low-relief "sculpto-paintings" that Archipenko began constructing in 1914. The artist used the principle of Cubist collage to create a synthesis of painting and sculpture in these polychrome compositions. Archipenko was among the few sculptors to be attracted by Cubism, and the angular fragmentation of planes and transposition of concave and convex forms in this work can be compared to similar painted motifs in the work of Braque and Picasso. The elongated female bather of the title is composed of two cone-shaped sheets of flattened metal, which Archipenko wedged together and painted a glowing orange that suffuses the entire panel with a soft golden light. The artist made this work in Nice, where he spent the war years, and his preoccupation with intense color and light can be seen as a direct result of his stay in this sundrenched Mediterranean resort.

    Archipenko incorporated a large range of materials and found objects into his sculpto-paintings, such as sheet metal, wood, fabric, tin, glass, plaster, metal foil, and photographs. These materials were superimposed on a painted panel, introducing a textural variety of complex pictorial effects, including transparency and reflection. The unexpected, often disquieting shifts from projecting volume to flat surface—here between the conical figure and the delicately shaded classical column beside her—enhance the machine-age dynamism of the piece, while the imposition of luminous color intensifies the optical effects of the forms to a degree that makes traditional sculpture seem dull. As Archipenko later explained: "Here I rendered the shape of a figure stepping out of the water with a column nearby. The form is yellow, the water blue. How absurd it would have been if I had attempted to carve the color of the water and the color of the figure.1 Twentieth Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2000), p. 32.

    1) Quoted in Alexander Archipenko: A Centennial Tribute, by Katherine Jánszky Michaelsen and Nehama Guralnik (Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1986), p. 39.