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Bathers In 19th Century Paris Essay

1306 words - 6 pages

Edgar Degas' "the Tub" (fig 1) and Mary Cassatt's "the Bath" (fig 2) feature women and the bath. One, displaying a nude woman bathing herself, and the other of a clothed woman bathing a child. Both pieces are products of the modernizing and urbanizing of Paris, which helped to create a new and inspired way of looking at and creating art, as well as depicting fleeting moments of everyday life in the city.To see how these paintings were a product of this new Paris, one must understand some of the ways in which Paris was changing.19th century France was a time of great cultural change, particularly in Paris. There were many "Conceptions of femininity...vision, imperialism, urban-ism, and ...view middle of the document...

France first became introduced to Japanese art around 1753, when American naval forces gained trade privileges from Japan, thus bringing Japanese culture over to the West.(5) Both works have an angled viewpoint that is typical of Japanese prints. Each piece also has a two-dimensional quality to it, emphasized by the flat, cool colours,(6) mainly composed of blue and white. Despite these similarities, both piece's subject and style still differ slightly."The Tub", by Degas shows a woman in a tub, washing herself. At the time, women generally didn't bathe more then once a month, as it was considered unsanitary to bathe, due to the poor water quality. However it was the law for prostitutes to bathe, in order to prevent disease-spread. Therefor, it is a possibility that this painting shows a prostitute. (7) However, many other critics believe that "the Tub", coupled with "Woman Bathing in a Shallow Tub" (fig 3), also by Degas, are depicting a contemporary Venus. In "The Tub" the position of the model, crouched over, with her left knee close to the ground, and right arm extending backwards to dab herself with the sponge, is reminiscent of the pose of the antique Crouching Venus sculpture situated in the Louvre.(fig 4) (8) The work as a whole is very personal. The viewer is getting an almost voyeuristic, fleeting look in to what is normally the very private moment of a woman bathing herself.In terms of style, Degas' may have been directly inspired (9) by Torri Kiyonaga's "Detail of Two Women at the Bath" (fig 5). Both feature a woman bathing in a tub, and contain an angled view-point and have a certain 'flatness' to them. However, Degas adds his own flair to his, employing his preferred medium of pastel, and using the cool colours of the early morning, giving it a 'girlish fragility' that partially led critics to believe the work was a portrayal of Venus(10) Abandoning the old 'academic paragons', Degas instead attempts to create a figure with real movement, by capturing the "natural appearance of the human body, right down to the twitching of individual muscles" (11). The female is also framed in, and pushed over to the side, by Degas' use of the vertical line, with the dressing table, but the harshness of that is lessened by the still-life arrangement on the counter. The delicate form and colours of the two jugs, curling iron, hairbrush and wig seem to be showing us the natural beauty of the woman. (12)Mary Cassatt's "the Bath" also differs from Degas' painting in terms of subject matter and style. Although...

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