- Jean-Léon Gérôme
- Femmes au bain
- signed J.L. GEROME. (lower left)
- oil on canvas
- 16 by 12 3/4 in.
- 40.9 by 32.5 cm
Private European Collector (acquired at the above sale and sold, Sotheby's, London, June 2, 2010, lot 115, illustrated)
Acquired at the above sale
Gerald M. Ackerman, The Life and Work of Jean-Léon Gérôme, with a catalogue raisonné, London, 1986, p. 266, no. 376, illustrated p. 267
Gerald M. Ackerman, Jean-Léon Gérôme, monographie révisée, catalogue raisonné mis a jour, Paris, 2000, p. 326, no. 376, illustrated p. 327
Fréderic Masson records an entertaining account by Gérôme (probably in a letter) of this experience of a visit to the men's baths: "During a stay in Bursa, I was taken by the architecture of the baths, 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. I had the idea of painting my portrait in this costume, but I dropped it, fearing that my image (dal vero) might get me too much attraction and launch me in a career as a Don Juan" (Frédéric Masson, "J.L. Gérôme. Notes et fragments des souvenirs inédits du maître," Les Arts, 1902, p. 30).
By the time the present work was executed, Gérôme had moved away from heroic history painting towards archeological accuracy and objective realism. That is not to say that he adhered to Courbet's transitory school of Realism — the poses and finish of Gérôme's nudes remain grounded in academic idealism — but rather that he paid greater attention to the ensemble; he studied the relation of the figures to their surroundings, to the floors and to the walls and accessories around them.
The subject of Femmes au bain was not uncommon in nineteenth-century painting; Eugène Delacroix, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and Théodore Chassériau had already received critical acclaim for their various nudes set in Turkish interiors. Ingres' famous rendering of this subject in 1862 is an exotic fantasy of voluptuous flesh, while, in contrast, the present composition seems devoid of lasciviousness or even the mildest evocation of eroticism: the nudes are not shown as examples of primitive sensuality as is the tradition in depicting bath scenes; they do not pose in erotic deprivation or anticipation; they are simply engaged in the social activity of the bath.