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Painting Modern Life

Explore how early modern artists forged new directions in painting.


The Bather

Paul Cézanne
(French, 1839–1906)

1885. Oil on canvas, 50 x 38 1/8" (127 x 96.8 cm)

Artist unknown. Standing Model. c. 1860–80

Artist unknown. Standing Model. c. 1860–80. Photograph. Gift of Curt Valentin

Cézanne’s The Bather depicts an adolescent boy mid-step, capturing a fleeting moment in time. The painting is quite traditional in its subject matter—a male figure in a landscape. But unlike traditional painting, Cézanne’s Bather is pensive, even anxious; his body is decidedly unheroic. Set against a barren, ambiguous backdrop, it is hard to tell where the painting takes place and who the person is. Instead of representing a specific place, the painting seems to capture a sense of ambiguity or uncertainty that is typical of the modern experience. The painting does not tell a story or convey an idea; rather, this composition gave Cézanne an outlet for exploring new ways of painting.

Additionally, Cézanne painted from a photograph of a man standing in a studio in a bathing suit rather than from something that he had seen in real life. The act of painting from a photograph rather than life was a decidedly novel technique at the time.

The method with which an artist, writer, performer, athlete, or other producer employs technical skills or materials to achieve a finished product or endeavor.

The visual or narrative focus of a work of art.

Modern can mean related to current times, but it can also indicate a relationship to a particular set of ideas that, at the time of their development, were new or even experimental.

The natural landforms of a region; also, an image that has natural scenery as its primary focus.

 The arrangement of the elements within a work of art photograph. The composition is the interplay between the subject, foreground, background, and other elements in the photograph.

Fun Fact!
In 1884, only a year before Cézanne made The Bather, inventor George Eastman developed a method for photographing on film, rather than plates. The technique, which eliminated the need to carry toxic chemicals and cumbersome glass plates, helped make photography available to the masses. Within a few years, it became common practice for painters, including Cézanne, and later Picasso, to include photography as part of their painting process.

Multimedia

LISTEN UP!
AUDIO:
Curator Ann Temkin talks about why Cézanne is considered a forefather of of 20th-century painting

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AUDIO:
Hear a detailed visual description of Cézanne’s The Bather