170.8 x 117.8 cm
Oil on Canvas
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Linda Nochlin, the Lila Acheson Wallace Professor of Modern Art at New York University's Institute of Fine Arts gave a lecture at Harvard University on Feb 24, 2004 (reported here). The report includes the following remarks from Nochlin:
"It was also a time when bathing and swimming were enjoying a new popularity among both women and men as a form of health-giving exercise. Nochlin showed a succession of slides illustrating this growing trend, engravings from the popular press showing women in modestly baggy bathing costumes splashing about in the new "piscines" or swimming pools, as well as satirical drawings by the artist Honoré Daumier mocking these grotesque and misshapen "Naiads of the Seine."
Parisian attitudes were divided on the subject of water sports for women. On the one hand, immersion in the "pure" water of the upper Seine (the early piscines were enclosed barges that let in the river water) was considered healthy and edifying. On the other hand, it was feared that the piscines were becoming the haunt of theater women and others of low moral character who would pollute the premises by drinking and smoking and generally carrying on like men.
But in addition to reflecting contemporary preoccupations with women and water, Renoir's painting, in Nochlin's view, also represents a change in artistic style, driven in turn by social and economic forces.
In contrast to Renoir's earlier impressionistic works, which portray a realistic, albeit consistently sunny, world in which men and women interact in recognizable settings, "The Great Bathers" presents an idealized world divorced from the modern urban milieu. In technique, it eschews the loose brushstrokes and dappled play of light of the impressionist period for a firmer, more sculptural rendering."