Thursday, 31 July 2008

Art: Renoir - The Bathers

The Bathers

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."

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Art: Bathing at La Grenouillere by Claude Monet

Bathing at La Grenouillere

Oil on white primed canvas
28 3/4 x 36 1/4 in. (73 x 92 cm.)

La Grenouillere was a riverside bathing and boating resort, popular among weekend trippers during the Second Empire (1852-1870) and after. It had a floating restaurant which is seen in another of the paintings executed by Monet during his two-month stay there in the late summer of 1869, and it appears in similar works by Renoir often painted sitting alongside Monet. The resort was situated on the Ile de Croissy, facing the left bank of the Seine.

More here

I love the 19th century swimming costumes depicted here.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Australian mythologies - Gallipoli and Swimming

The 1915 landing at Gallipoli has assumed a mythological place in the Australian story. Despite defeat it is a national "coming of age" story, when for the first time Australians and New Zealanders saw themselves as other than "mother country colonials".

In the same way swimming has a place in the concept of Australians as outdoorsy, physical types (despite much obesity-related evidence to the contrary!). The Australian Crawl is the name given to the swimming stroke most commonly used today (the 'front crawl')

Sometime between 1870 and 1890, John Arthur Trudgen learned the front crawl from Native Americans during a trip to South America. (The exact date is disputed, but is most often given as 1873.) However, Trudgen mistakenly used (in Britain) the more common sidestroke (scissor) kick instead of the flutter kick used by the Native Americans. This hybrid stroke was called the Trudgen. Because of its speed the stroke quickly became popular.

The Trudgen was improved by the Australian-born son of swimming teacher, "Professor" Richard (Fred, Frederick) Cavill, champion swimmer Richmond (Dick) Cavill (1884–1938). While he and his brother "Tums" developed the stroke independently, they were later inspired by Alick Wickham, a young Solomon Islander resident in Sydney who swam a version of the crawl stroke that was popular in his home in the Roviana Lagoon. This modified Trudgen stroke became known as the Australian crawl.

So, combine the Gallipoli legend, and the Australian predeliction for swimming, and what happens?

“Swimming in the sea was popular with the men at Anzac particularly as their daily water allowance left little for washing either themselves of their clothes. As the weather turned hot, the beach sometimes looked like a holiday resort. The Turks began lobbing shells into the sea amongst the bathers, but the men continued to swim there. " - from Patrick Carlyon, The Gallipoli Story. Penguin 2003

Jack Buntine, a Gallipoli survivor said in an interview:

"Taking risks in life is recommended; after all, you might be killed crossing the road - but the risks that Buntine took demonstrated a devil-may-care attitude. “Oh, we used to go swimming’ at Gallipoli and they would be shootin’ at us. You’d see bullets goin’ in the water around you - but they didn’t worry me. Johnny Turk was not going to stop me swimmin’. "
From: This website (click)

Below: Beach scene, Anzac Cove

Below: Soldiers swimming from barges, Anzac Cove. As we see below, those soldiers included the British Commandeer of the Australian And NZ troops, Lieutenant Genral William Birdwood.

Below: Birdwood swimming at Anzac Cove, May 1915. "General Birdwood enjoyed a swim when possible. In the water, naked like everyone else, he was sometimes mistaken for a lowly private. Journalist Phillip Schuler wrote that one day a canvas pipe from a water-barge fell into the sea. The barge-man, not recognising the general, yelled at him: ‘Well lend a fellow a *&^%* hand to get the *&^%$^ thing up.’ Birdwood did not punish the barge-man for his rudeness. Rather, he helped out and later delighted in re-telling the story.” Patrick Carlyon, Penguin 2003.

Below: The beach at Anzac Cove.
Below: Mixed media work by Australian artist Sidney Nolan entitled Anazac Swimming at Gallipoli
This article by Steve Meachem says:
"Jane Clark, the deputy chairwoman of Sotheby's Australia and author of Sidney Nolan: Landscapes and Legends said Nolan was staying with the novelist George Johnson on the Greek island of Hydra in 1956 when he visited the war correspondent Alan Moorehead, who had written his best-selling account of Gallipoli on the nearby island of Spetsae. Nolan was struck by the similarities between the first Anzacs and the Homeric heroes.

In the 1950s Gallipoli was much less established in Australian mythology than now. Most of the focus was on World War II. But in the Gallipoli campaign, Ms Clark said, Nolan saw the same "legend of failure" that attracted him to the stories of Ned Kelly and of Burke and Wills.
Perhaps Nolan was thinking of his own less-than-heroic military failure. In July 1945, fearing front-line duty in New Guinea, he deserted from the army. Still it was these Gallipoli paintings that consolidated his international reputation."

Below: Swimmers at Gallipoli by Sidney Nolan (Australian War Memorial collection)

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Avignon - Olympic pool, Île de la Barthelasse

It's easy to miss this pool, as it is "hidden" along a driveway behind a cafe and restaurant. We found it on our last morning in Avignon when we went for a walk along the island in the Rhône, Île de la Barthelasse.

The weather wasn't ideal for swimming, and the pool had only just opened for the season, but a couple of souls were ploughing up and down and a few kids were playing around.

We had a tea and a coffee at the poolside lovely cafe, which is separate to the pool itself.

Visit: 15 June 2008