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

The Large Bathers

Oil on canvas, 208 x 249 cm
Museum of Art, Philadelphia

Cézanne painted three large versions of the female bathers, all during the last seven years of his life. The version in Philadelphia is the largest. This was the first time that Cézanne had painted such a monumental canvas. Two other versions are in The Barnes Foundation, Merion, and in the National Gallery, London.

The figures in all three compositions are remarkably simply and coarsely painted. The female creatures frolicking on the riverbank are not graceful, rather they are sturdy, angular, oddly proportioned and plump, and have nothing erotic about them. Cézanne avoided any suggestion of individuality and instead has generalised the figures in the same way as the landscapes, so that both have equal artistic weight.

In the Philadelphia version, Cézanne has focused on the trunks which bear the weight of the trees. These create a framework which is both static and dynamic. The figures are also aligned in the same way as the trees; this is probably most apparent in the female figure on the far left, whose upper body and left leg are inclined at exactly the same angle as the tree trunk. However, the contours and arms of the other figures also echo the geometry of the framework.

Cézanne spent more than seven years working on this version. The strict triangular composition makes it the most classical of this series.