CÉZANNE, Paul
(b. 1839, Aix-en-Provence, d. 1906, Aix-en-Provence)

Bathers

1892-94
Oil on canvas, 27 x 41 cm
Pushkin Museum, Moscow

During the last years of his life, Cézanne decided to devote a number of large compositions to a motif he had painted at the beginning of his career as an artist: semi-abstract figures in a landscape. Aged over sixty, he recalled the most carefree and happy time of his life when he would go out with his friends exploring the area around Aix and spending many hours on the banks of the river. He produced many drawings, watercolours and oil paintings of these bathing scenes, calling them Idyll, Nudes on the Riverbank or simply bathers. In all, he produced some 140 drawings, sketches and paintings depicting this motif.

The theme of the bathers in Cézanne's work can be traced back to the beginning of the 1870s. Male and female bathers rarely appear together in the same painting, and the late works are therefore very different from the dramatic pictures of the 1860s and early 1870s, in which Cézanne used the confrontation between the sexes in a provocative way. Cézanne's aim in strictly segregating the sexes in the Bathers series was to exclude any connotations from the situation, any element of the transient, sensual or erotic. This meant that his figures became internalised, spiritual beings, and he could concentrate wholly on the purely formal, compositional problems of his pictures because they had been freed of content.