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The Great Bathers

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, French, 1841 - 1919

Made in France, Europe


Oil on canvas

46 3/8 × 67 1/4 inches (117.8 × 170.8 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Painting

* Gallery 264, European Art 1850-1900, second floor (Women´s Committee Gallery

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
The Mr. and Mrs. Carroll S. Tyson, Jr., Collection, 1963

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Although this painting depicts a fleeting moment when one bather playfully threatens to splash a companion, it has a timeless, monumental quality. The sculptural rendering of the figures against a shimmering landscape and the careful application of dry paint reflect the tradition of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century French painting. Renoir--in an attempt to reconcile this tradition with modern painting--labored over this work for three years, making numerous preparatory drawings for individual figures and at least two full-scale, multifigure drawings. Faced with criticism of his new style after completing The Large Bathers, an exhausted Renoir never again devoted such painstaking effort to a single work.

Additional information:
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections

    In the 1880s Pierre-Auguste Renoir sought to move his art beyond Impressionism and to forge a link between modern art and the classical tradition of French painting, represented for him by such great painters and sculptors of the past as Jean Goujon, François Girardon, and Nicolas Poussin. The result was this large-scale composition of nude bathers, which occupied much of his attention for some three years and was preceded by numerous preparatory studies. Using as his source a bas-relief by the seventeenth-century sculptor Girardon in the garden of Versailles, he executed a perfectly still, carefully composed grouping of monumental figures. Although the theme of nude bathers would stay with Renoir throughout his career, some of his Impressionist colleagues thought that with this work he had betrayed the cause of modernist painting by retreating to classicism. Christopher Riopelle, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 200.

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