Five women jostle for position in this preparatory sketch for the larger painting of the same title, today in the Kunstmuseum Basel. Groups of bathers in idealised Arcadian landscapes were a theme that occupied Cezanne from the 1870s until the end of his life. He produced nearly 200 scenes of this subject, as paintings, drawings and prints. Unlike his contemporaries who focused on bathing as an aspect of modern life, Cezanne produced timeless scenes that owe more to his predecessors, including Nicolas Poussin (1594–1655).
The figures dominate the square composition, their limbs extending to the loosely sketched lines that frame it. Only a curtain of foliage behind them alludes to their pastoral setting, while their activity is made apparent only by the hurried strokes at the bottom of the sheet, indicating the flowing waters of the stream in which one bather sits. The two women behind her also bathe, one crouching to reach the stream, the other standing to wash herself. The woman at left holds a cloth, its sparsely drawn drapery visible between her legs.
The women’s poses – sitting, striding, crouching and washing – betray Cezanne’s sources. These are not live models but antique sculptures. Cezanne copied figures from the Musée du Louvre and from reproductions, adapting and distorting their stances in numerous paintings. His technique of combining unrelated figures is evident in the disconnection between his bathers. The hand of the woman at left placed on the shoulder of the seated figure is a rare point of interaction.
Uniquely for Cezanne, the sheet is squared to aid the artist in transferring the composition to the larger canvas. This enhances the impression that all five women are in the fore- ground, pressed up against the picture plane. This aspect, and the careful balance of five poses, was appropriated by Pablo Picasso in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907, New York, Museum of Modern Art) and by Henri Matisse in La Danse (1910, St. Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum).
Kunstmuseum, Basel, Switzerland, Paul Cézanne: Die Badenden, September 10–December 10, 1989, no. 121, pl. 101a (ill. col).
Grand Palais, Paris, Cézanne, September 26, 1995–January 14, 1996, no. 63, ill. in color, p. 203, as Cinq baigneuses, 1885-1887, lent by Drue Heinz. Travelled to: Tate Gallery, London, February 8–April 28, 1996. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, May 26–September 1, 1996.
The Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, Cézanne at the Whitworth, 24 August 2019–1 March 2020, pp. 56–7, no. 9 (recto ill. col).
Vollard, Ambroise. Paul Cézanne. Paris: Vollard, 1914, p. 174, ill. Venturi, Lionello. Cézanne: Son Art, Son Oeuvre. Paris: Editions Paul Rosenberg, 1936, no. 1490, ill. vol. II as Baigneuses. Chappuis, Adrien. The Drawings of Paul Cézanne: A Catalogue Raisonné. Greenwich, CT: New York Graphic Society, 1973, no. 517, ll. as Five Women bathers. Krumrine, Mary Louise. Paul Cézanne: The Bathers. Basel: Museum of Fine Arts, 1989. Exhibition catalogue, ill. 129, p. 164. Ballas, Guila. Cézanne: baigneuses et baigneurs: thème et composition. Paris: Adam Biro, 2002, p. 280, no. 51, ill. Feilchenfeldt, Walter, Jayne Warman, and David Nash. "Cinq baigneuses, 1879–82 (FWN 2029)." The Paintings, Watercolors and Drawings of Paul Cezanne: An Online Catalogue Raisonné. https://www.cezannecatalogue.com/catalogue/entry.php?id=2183