Four Bathers by Degas and Bonnard offers an intimate look at bathing scenes by Edgar Degas (1834–1917) and Pierre Bonnard (1867–1947) completed in Paris and the French Riviera between 1884 and 1925. This focused installation of four works drawn entirely from the Brooklyn Museum’s permanent collection unites for the first time two rarely seen pastel drawings (21.113 and 54.54) and one massive unfinished canvas by Degas (31.813) with a lithograph by Bonnard from his celebrated series of female bathers in full-length bathtubs (74.35). Considering the light-sensitive nature of these extremely popular objects, Four Bathers by Degas and Bonnard will be on view for a limited time.
Degas first broke with the academic tradition of depicting the female bather as a passive, eroticized nude in the 1870s. Inspired by the new aesthetic of naturalism, which encouraged artists to redefine beauty in contemporary urban terms, he created drawings and monotypes of women bathing, washing, and drying themselves for the first three Impressionist exhibitions. His unmannered models engaged in quotidian actions—reaching for a towel or drying their hair—in recognizable middle-class Parisian interiors. Stripped of mythological and allegorical trappings, Degas’s bathers were naked—not nude—and at home amid their private, daily routines.
By the end of the 1880s, Degas’s innovations had caught the eye of the Paris critics, who praised him as the leading vanguard artist of the nude. His bathers in particular were singled out for their “total realism” and described as “the woman who doesn’t know she is being looked at, as one would see her hidden behind a curtain or through a keyhole.” Degas’s frank representations inspired and at times cowed his fellow artists, among them Paul Gauguin, who in 1888 wrote to the art collector Émile Schuffenecker about the paralyzing grip of his influence. In the 1920s Bonnard was still learning from Degas, embracing—as we see here in his lithograph The Bath (74.35)—the master’s direct approach and elevated viewpoint.
Richard Aste joined the Brooklyn Museum in the spring of 2010 as Curator of European Art. From 2007 until 2010, he was Associate Curator of European Art at Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico. There he organized the exhibitions El Greco to Goya: Masterpieces of Spanish Painting from the Prado and The Journey to Impressionism and co-curated Masterpieces of European Painting from Museo de Arte de Ponce and The Age of Rodin. Aste has taught at Hunter College and worked as an Old Master paintings and drawings specialist at Christie’s New York and Rome. He has contributed to numerous exhibition catalogues, among them Giulio Romano: Master Designer (Hunter College Art Gallery, New York) and Venus and Love: Michelangelo and the New Ideal of Beauty (Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence). Aste received his B.A. from the University of Michigan, his M.A. from Hunter College, and his M.Phil. from the CUNY Graduate Center, where he is pursuing his Ph.D. As Curator of European Art, he will also oversee the Brooklyn Museum's Spanish colonial collection.