Bathers in 19th Century Paris

Essay by kristina389College, UndergraduateB, April 2012

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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, imperialism, urban-ism, and modernist art practices,"(1) such as impressionism. Impressionism was a contemporary art movement, practiced by a small group of artists, mainly from the bourgeoisie class, who rejected the classical, academic approach to art that came about during the renaissance.

(2) This rejection stemmed from a new, post-revolutionary, democratic way of thinking, and some artists believed that the 'academic' way of painting removed individuality from the pieces. (3) In this post-revolutionary era, under the rule of Louis Napoleon, the streets of Paris had transformed. Gone were the old, medieval buildings, to be replaced with great row houses and wide boulevards, the handiwork of architect Baron Haussmann. These new, wider boulevards made it possible for cafes to extend outwards on to the terrace. The streets of Paris became a show, and it's citizens would promenade the streets in order to see and be seen. This new Paris sparked the impressionists, and artists began to paint scenes of modern life(4), enamoured with the idea of capturing "snapshots" or fleeting moments.

Degas' "the Tub" and Cassatt's "the Bath", both dating back to 19th Century Paris,