signed J. L. GEROME (lower right)
oil on canvas
William Astor, New York
William Henry Haussner and Frances Wilke Haussner, The Haussner's Restaurant Collection, Baltimore
Sale: The Haussner's Restaurant Collection, Sotheby's, New York, November 2, 1999, lot 31, illustrated
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Jean-Léon Gérôme, Paris Photographs: Gérôme, Oeuvres, Cabinet des estampes, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris
Edward Strahan, ed., The Art Treasures of America, Philadelphia, 1879, vol. III, p. 5, illustrated opp. p. 9, in the 1977 facsimile edition, vol. II, pp. 71-2, 78 (as Moorish Bath), illustrated opp. p. 69
Gerald M. Ackerman, The Life and Work of Jean-Léon Gérôme, London, 1986, pp. 248-9, no. 297, illustrated p. 249
Gerald M. Ackerman, Jean-Léon Gérôme, Monographie revise, Catalogue raisonné mis à jour, Paris, 2000, p. 302, no. 297, illustrated pp. 128, 303 (as Femme Nues, Scène de Bain)
Stephen R. Edidin, "Gérôme's Orientalism," Gérôme & Goupil, Art and Enterprise, exh. cat., Paris, 2000, illustrated p. 136 (the woodburytype after the painting as Odalisques Bathing)
Mary G. Morton, "Gérôme in the Gilded Age," The Spectacular Art of Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904), exh. cat., Paris, 2010, p. 189 (as Moorish Bath)
Beginning in the 1870s, Gérôme produced a group of bath scenes, with After the Bath among the most accomplished examples. The composition follows a motif famously developed by early nineteenth century artists like Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (fig. 1). In the present work a group of female bathers---with dampened hair and in various states of undress---gather around a reflective pool. Each figure holds a distinctly different pose from the seated nude, her spine flexed, her neck softly twisted as she turns to her companion, to a shadowed figure standing in contrapposto, a saturated blue robe held across her pale body. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Gérôme does not eroticize the bathing scene---instead, the work serves as a careful examination of the human body and its skeletal structure, subtle muscle movement, and textured skin. From the 1870s, Gérôme's intense anatomy studies for his sculptures were further put to use in his paintings supported by observation of professional models in his Paris studios.
The architecture and decorations of After the Bath's interior may have been assembled from photographs and Gérôme's own props. When visiting Constantinople (now Istanbul) Gérôme met the famous Turkish photographers, the Abdullah brothers (founders of the Abdullah Frères firm); he used their images of the city, mainly its interiors, as sources for his compositions' backgrounds. Further, the artist decorated his Paris studio with tiles, metalwork, fabrics and other Middle Eastern souvenirs. Gérôme's visits to the Turkish city of Bursa's Sinan baths were likely important inspiration for After the Bath. Working in the baths on Men's Day (his presence among women would certainly have been forbidden), Gérôme naturally observed the casual society of the male bathers around him in the warm, steamy space. Gérôme's friend, Frédéric Masson, recorded the artist's account of the baths: "I was taken by the architecture... and they certainly offered a chance to study nudes. It wasn't just a question of going to see what was going on inside, and of replacing [some men by some women], I had to have a sketch of this interior; and since the temperature inside was rather high, I didn't hesitate to sketch in the simple apparel of a beauty just aroused from her sleep—that is, in the buff. Sitting on my tripod, my paint box on my knees, my palette in my hand, I was a little grotesque, but you have to know how to adapt yourself as necessary" (Frédéric Masson, 'J.L. Gérôme. Notes et fragments des souvenirs inédits du maître', Les Arts, 1902, p. 30). Such first hand experience provides a particular immediacy to After the Bath; each element of the composition suggests the warm, languorous luxury of the space and the soft, supple forms of the female body: the steamy water flowing out of a shiny, brass spigot, the hookah sending forth aromatic smoke, the glossy peppers, nubby oranges, and ripe persimmons tucked among the bathers. Gérôme's use of light in After the Bath also closely captures a sense of space—both architecturally and atmospherically. Turkish public baths consisted of a series of "apartments" in which beautiful mosaics and tessellated pavements were illuminated by shafts of light from the small, round windows of the domed ceilings. In the present work, soft areas of shadow are broken by spots of light absorbed into cool, marble surfaces and splash across the pool, allowing for the vivid reflection of the bathers at its edge, the bright blue of discarded drapery dipping into the surface, and the artist's own signature, inscribed at the edge and mirrored in the water's surface.While the setting of After the Bath is based on buildings as they looked during Gérôme's lifetime, the bathing scenes were ultimately formed from the artist's imagination and aesthetic choices. Contrasted with the visual virtuosity of the composition, the "reality" of the bathing scene mattered little to Gérôme's patrons---the great American industrialists and businessmen of the late nineteenth century. After the Bath was one of a number of Gérôme's works listed in the American critic Edward Strahn's 1880s inventory The Art Treasures of America. The visual brilliance of the painting reflected the connoisseurship of its first recorded owner William Astor. Viewing the work in Astor's private New York galleries, Strahan cited it as evidence that that "there is no living painter, and there are few living writers, whose mind can be called so interesting as the mind of Gérôme" (Strahan, 1977, p. 72). Born into one of the great American dynasties, Astor ultimately became the wealthiest man in America (in 1890 upon the death of his father, and fellow Gérôme collector, John Jacob Astor) and used his fortune to amass one of the most important collections of art in the late nineteenth century. Despite the prominence of Gérôme's patrons, by the turn of the twentieth century his oeuvre had become largely and unfairly overlooked. Indeed, After the Bath's next recorded owners, Henry and Frances Wilke Haussner, are credited for their role in re-introducing the artist and his era. Soon after their first painting purchase in 1939, the Haussners built a collection that echoed their predecessors like Astor, J.P. Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and Henry Walters. After the Bath hung in the Haussner's landmark Baltimore restaurant, where generations of patrons dined surrounded by the best examples of nineteenth century art. The record breaking sale of the Haussner's Restaurant collection in these rooms in 1999 further evidenced the renewed and deserved appreciation of Gérôme's masterworks like After the Bath.
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