Pierre-Auguste Renoir
The Bathers

The Bathers
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)
The Bathers
Circa 1918-1919
Oil on canvas
H. 110; W. 160 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

Les baigneuses [The Bathers]


This painting is emblematic of the experimentation carried out by Renoir at the end of his life. After 1910, he returned to one of his favourite subjects – nudes on the open air – and produced several large paintings. In them, Renoir celebrated a timeless view of nature from which all reference to the contemporary world was banned. The Bathers may also be regarded as Renoir's pictorial testament, for he died in December 1919. It was in this spirit that his three sons, among them the filmmaker John Renoir, gave the painting to the State in 1923.

The two models lying in the foreground and the three bathers sporting in the stream in the background posed in the large garden full of olive trees at Les Collettes, the painter's property at Cagnes-sur-Mer in the South of France. The Mediterranean landscape refers to the classical tradition of Italy and Greece, when "the earth was the paradise of the gods". "That is what I want to paint," added Renoir. This idyllic vision is emphasised by the models' sensuality, the rich colours and full forms.

The Bathers owes a great deal to the nudes painted by Titian and Rubens, so greatly admired by Renoir. They express a pleasure in painting which was not dampened by the illness and suffering that the painter endured in his last years.


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