Paul Cezanne: The Large Bathers

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The Large Bathers (Les Grandes Baigneuses) painting by Paul Cézanne

Les Grandes Baigneuses (The Large Bathers), 1898-1905, oil on canvas painting by Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), 250.8 cm x 210.5 cm, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, United States

The oil painting ‘The Bathers’ (also known as The Big Bathers or Les Grandes Baigneuses) is considered Paul Cézanne’s finest work and one of the masterpieces of Modern Art. The painting was included in ‘100 Great Paintings’, a television series created by Edwin Mullins for BBC Two in 1980.

At the time of his death in 1906, Les Grandes Baigneuses remained unfinished, although Cézanne had been working on it for seven years. The Philadelphia Museum of Art purchased it for $110,000 in 1937.

‘The Bathers’ is the largest of a series of paintings titled ‘Bathers’ created by Cézanne. This painting is generally referred to as ‘The Large Bathers’ or ‘The Big Bathers’ to distinguish it from Cézanne’s other ‘Bathers’ which are smaller in size.

The painting is noted for its symmetry by aligning the abstract female figures with the triangular pattern formed by the trees and the river. Space is also intentionally used to align with the symmetry by grouping the bathers to the right and left of the canvas, leaving clear vision almost in the center to view the other bank of the river, and the road or path beyond leading to a place with buildings in the distance. Though not drawn to have any importance in the overall scheme of the painting, the figure towards the extreme right of the canvas, just behind the large woman walking forward, seems to be a man, and seems to have been included deliberately.

Cézanne, along with artists such as Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) and El Greco (1541-1614), has been said to have influenced Pablo Picasso for the creation of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Also both Cézanne and Gauguin were particularly influential for the formation of Cubism and the paintings created by Picasso during 1906 and 1907.

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