Four Bathing Beauties, Together for the First Time

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.

Edgar Degas. Nude Woman Drying Herself.

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917). Nude Woman Drying Herself, ca. 1884-1886. Oil on canvas, 68 1/4 x 93 1/4 x 3 1/2 in. (173.4 x 236.9 x 8.9 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Carll H. de Silver Fund, 31.813

Edgar Degas. Woman Drying Her Hair.

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917). Woman Drying Her Hair, ca. 1889. Pastel and graphite on brown wove paper mounted on board, 33 1/8 x 41 1/2 in. (84.1 x 105.4 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Museum Collection Fund, 21.113

Edgar Degas. Seated Nude Woman Drying Her Hair.

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917). Seated Nude Woman Drying Her Hair, ca. 1902. Pastel on translucent paper mounted on paperboard, 39 x 46 x 2 3/4 in. (99.1 x 116.8 x 7 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Mrs. Leo Smith, 54.54

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.

Pierre Bonnard. The Bath, Second Version.

Pierre Bonnard (French, 1867-1947). The Bath, Second Version, ca. 1925. Lithograph on laid China paper, 14 3/8 x 10 5/8 in. (36.5 x 27 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Designated Purchase Fund, 74.35

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.