Understanding Cezanne’s ‘Bathers’

The culmination of Cezanne’s life and career were the series of wonderful ‘Bathers’ that he painted between 1900 and 1906.

Cezanne Les Grand Baigneuses 1900-6 Philadelphia

Cezanne Les Grand Baigneuses 1900-6 Philadelphia

Complex, controversial, personal and highly influential, these paintings are today regarded as masterpieces of Post-Impressionism.

The lecture examines Cezanne’s earlier life, his childhood spent in Provence often in the company of the young Emile Zola, exploring the landscape and bathing in the clear rivers around Aix-en-Provence. We look at Cezanne’s interest in classical poetry in particular Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’ and we see that ‘The Bathers’ recreate a mythical Paradise of Cezanne’s youth.

We trace the development of the theme of Bathers during the 1860’s and 1870’s when Cezanne was struggling to come to terms with Impressionism. He returns time and time again to subjects based on Manet’s ‘Dejeuner sur L’Herbe’ and ‘Olympia’, as well as the Rape of Prosperine, baptism in the open air, Rubens’ Susanne and the Elders. We explore how classical and baroque sculpture became the models for many of his figures. The lecture reveals Cezanne as a man obsessed with the great traditions of European art.



We also see the sexual background to the ‘Bathers’, Cezanne’s relationship with his wife Hortense and his fear of physical contact. We discuss whether the paintings depict a struggle between the sacred and the profane and to what extend Cezanne had planned them as a culmination of his life’s work.

Finally we examine the enormous impact these paintings have had in 20th century painting, how Matisse absorbed the theme in ‘Calme, Luxe et Volupté’ and how Picasso’s ‘Les Demoiselles D’Avignon’ was inspired by Cezanne’s great masterpieces. This is a lecture which will reveal many aspects of Cezanne’s life and art which your audience may not have appreciated.