The Bathers Gustave Courbet Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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The use of honesty and realism continues with Courbet's The Bathers, where women are captured in their natural beauty and not 'airbrushed' to meet traditional tastes. The artist wanted to celebrate the female body, and accept it entirely as it was.

The original painting from 1853 can be found at the Musée Fabre, Montpellier and it is just one of a number of female nude portraits produced by this artist during that period. Sadly, critics attacked it for depicting a large lady such as this, failing to see the beauty of the portrait. Despite that, Courbet managed to sell it for 3,000 francs which kept him financially stable for the foreseeable future. The buyer, Alfred Bruyas, would later become a close friend of the artist and continued to purchase other paintings from his career as their friendship developed.

The landscape setting was Franche-Comté, somewhere that the artist loved and used as inspiration for many of his paintings. Some critics deemed the foliage a little too sketchy, but the artist was used to criticism and continued unabated. Some research has uncovered, through x-ray, extra details behind the completed oil work. They found an alternative format for the same painting, that the artist later decided to change considerably. In that version the central female was actually facing the viewer.

Hundreds of famous artists from across all manner of different art movements have used bathers as inspiration for their work. There is an innocence to it as well as a connection to some mythological tales. Additionally, it allows artists to display their skills of depicting the female anatomy, without resorting to any adult themes. Men have also been included bathing in some compositions. The Large Bathers by Paul Cezanne, Bather with Long Hair by Pierre Auguste Renoir, Diana Bathing with her Nymphs with Actaeon and Callisto by Rembrandt and Le Dejeuner Sur L'Herbe by Edouard Manet are amongst the most respected of all.