(b. 1690, Paris, d. 1743, Paris)
Oil on canvas, 115 x 95 cm
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg
Four large-scale decorative canvases emblematizing the 'Four Seasons' were commissioned around 1720 by Jean-François Leriget de la Faye (1764-1731), one of the most enlightened and distinguished patrons of the arts in Régence Paris. He was a diplomat, military man and connoisseur of art, music, ballet and theater, an amateur poet with enough merit to claim a seat in the Académie Française.
By 1721, Watteau was dead and Lancret would have emerged as his undisputed successor as master of the fête galante. The commission would be the most important of Lancret's early career - indeed, one of the most important he would ever receive - coming as he was first establishing himself as an independent artist.
Lancret's four paintings are wholly modern. With each canvas measuring c. 115 cm high and enlivened with a dozen or more figures, the artist represented each season of the year in lively scenes of contemporary city or country life, cloaked in fashionable dress and surroundings. The paintings are sparkling in execution, bright and richly coloured, and filled with carefully observed and often witty vignettes of men and women enjoying the pleasures of leisure time. The artist exemplified each season by its effect on human pleasure and merrymaking, showing the different forms of entertainment they offered: savouring grapes and wine in Autumn, bird catching in Spring, bathing in Summer, and playing cards by a cozy fire in Winter.
Allegories of the seasons were very popular in the 18th century and Lancret turned to the subject on a number of occasions, repeating this series several times. Bathing on a sunny day is immediately evocative of the heat of summer and provided an opportunity to depict female figures in a state of undress. The decorative nature of the painting and its hint of eroticism in the relaxed bathers, unselfconsciously displaying their breasts, made the series popular with contemporaries.