Paul Cézanne’s ‘Bathers’ goes on display at Tate Modern

Painted over the final three decades of his life, Paul Cezanne’s series of ‘Bathers’ amounted to over 160 drawings and paintings. We take a closer look at one of the most iconic paintings from the series which is currently on display at Tate Modern’s The EY Exhibition: Cezanne.

‘Bathers (Les Grandes Baigneuses)’, Paul Cézanne.

The artistic tradition of bathers

As a subject, bathers have fascinated artists since the Renaissance who strove to depict idealised female bodies in harmony with nature. Works such as Sandro Botticelli’s ‘Primavera’ and Titian’s ‘Venus Rising From The Sea’ included depictions of nymphs and goddesses in woodland and coastal scenes. 

However, whilst his artistic predecessors were revered for their realistic rendition of the female form, Cézanne’s looser, more abstracted bathers divided critics.

Close-up, ‘Bathers (Les Grandes Baigneuses)’, Paul Cézanne

Simplified forms

Cézanne was interested in reducing the human figure to three forms: cylinder, cone and sphere – simplifying them down in a similar way to his still life paintings of oranges, pears and apples.

‘Bathers (Les Grandes Baigneuses)’ was created in the final 10 years of Cézanne’s life. Measuring 127.2 x 196.1 cm, the original is one of three large scale paintings in the series. 

Look closely, and you will spot the inclusion of a small gathering of oranges beside the sleeping black dog in the centre of the composition – a subtle nod to his previous body of work.

The black dog and spherical oranges in ‘Bathers (Les Grandes Baigneuses)’, Paul Cézanne

Shy and reclusive in his later years, Cézanne felt uncomfortable hiring models to pose for him. As he had previously created numerous sketches during visits to the Louvre, his sketchbooks became his point of reference. 

According to Rosalind McKever, curator of paintings and drawings at The National Gallery, it is possible that the nude female figure sitting on the right of ‘Bathers (Les Grandes Baigneuses)’, with her arms leaning forward, has been taken from a study of a Venus sculpture in the Louvre. While the woman laying on her front facing away from the viewer bears resemblance to a sculpture titled, ‘Sleeping Hermaphroditus’.

Inspired by Hermaphroditus, ‘Bathers (Les Grandes Baigneuses)’, Paul Cézanne

Mark making

Through his use of colour, Cézanne’s lyrical bathers blend into the landscape. Using cobalt blue to outline the figures he both highlights their importance in the scene, whilst simultaneously bringing them into harmony with their natural surroundings. His rhythmic use of line marries the bathers with the swaying Provençal trees.

Rhythmic movement in ‘Bathers (Les Grandes Baigneuses)’, Paul Cézanne


‘Bathers (Les Grande Baigneuses)’ saw an ever-changing evolution of form, perspective and abstraction through its lengthy genesis.

Affected by his Impressionist contemporaries – Monet, Renoir and Gauguin – Cézanne had adopted a hue-based colour palette during his time socialising with them in the 1870s – a decision that greatly developed his style.

Crucially, his reduction of form provided groundbreaking steps into Post-Impressionism, leading subsequent twentieth-century artists to venture deeper into paths of abstraction.

Venus inspired bather, ‘Bathers (Les Grandes Baigneuses)’, Paul Cézanne


In 1907, a retrospective of Cézanne’s work including ‘Bathers (Les Grand Baigneuse)’ was exhibited at the Salon d’Automne, winning considerable praise. 

Receiving critical recognition during the last decade of his life, the pioneer of Post-Impressionism also gained appreciation from his fellow artists. Prominent painters including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Paul Gauguin, Kazimir Malevich and Pierre Bonnard purchased his artwork.

So taken was Matisse with the Bathers series that he took out a loan in 1899 to purchase the painting ‘Three Bathers’, (1879-89). A notable Fauvist in his early career, Matisse’s use of colour was greatly inspired by Cézanne’s work. 

The influence of Cézanne can be seen throughout Matisse’s long artistic career. Fast forward to his cut out collage works from the 1950s and you will discover ‘La Baigneuse Dans Les Roseaux’, (1952).

Painted in blue Gouache, the segments of paper form a nude female bather in the centre of an aqueous scene. This abstract figure is a wonderful example of Cézanne's effects on modern art, far into the twentieth century.

‘Bathers (Les Grandes Baigneuses)’, Paul Cézanne.

The EY Exhibition: Cézanne runs from 5th October 2022 – 12th March 2023 at Tate Modern.

Related stories

spotlight Curated Editions: Meet Lindsey Bull

Interested in figures of an indeterminate gender, Manchester-based painter Lindsey Bull’s figurative works explore psychological states and how they manifest in the external world.

spotlight Curated Editions: Meet Henry Hussey

Henry Hussey creates artworks that are emotionally raw. His work is often created with force through often paradoxically laboured mediums, including textile, glass, ceramic, paint and film.

spotlight Curated Editions: Meet Rebecca Byrne

Inspired by nostalgia and fantastical landscapes, American painter Rebecca Byrne’s work is colourful, gestural, and touchingly optimistic. She talks to curator Becca-Pelly Fry about memories of growing up on a farm on the outskirts of Chicago in the 1980s, how her work has changed since she moved to London, and the edition she’s made for our inaugural Curated Editions collection, New Mythologies.

spotlight Curated Editions: Meet collage artist Ambrosine Allen

Ambrosine Allen’s work is intricate, delicate and multi-layered. Mystical landscapes and dramatic scenes are built from thousands of tiny fragments of collage, painstakingly assembled over many hours, days and weeks.

spotlight Curated Editions: Meet painter Dee Ferris

Dee Ferris’ work pushes against the serenity of idealised travel images found in books and glossy magazines. With a keen eye for colour and narrative, her exquisite landscapes are at once peaceful and intentionally unsettled. 

spotlight Must-see winter exhibitions

Discover our top picks, brought to you by many of our long-standing museum and art gallery partners including The Royal Academy, The National Gallery and The Courtauld.

spotlight The beautiful game: famous football prints

Learn about the stories behind the famous football prints and posters in our collection.

spotlight Bella Freud’s prints go on display in her Marylebone store

The celebrated designer’s new prints are now on display at her beautiful store in Marylebone. Here are a few highlights from the launch event. 

spotlight RARE: Four original 1994 Pulp Fiction posters 

Join us as we dive into the ‘Tarantinoverse’, exploring some of our favourite characters depicted in these original ‘Pulp Fiction’ posters, originally displayed in contemporary movie theatre foyers

spotlight Meet celebrated designer Bella Freud

We catch up with Bella at King & McGaw to discuss the stories behind her most famous designs and the new special edition prints she’s produced with us.

spotlight Hokusai’s ‘The Great Wave’ – an artwork for eternity

Since its genesis in the nineteenth century, Hokusai’s Great Wave off Kanagawa’, has swept the world with its sublime beauty. We explore how the Japanese artist’s woodblock prints fascinated the likes of Vincent van Gogh, and still manage to beguile viewers today.

spotlight A change in season: Autumnal Vogue illustration covers

To welcome in the change of season, we revisit some of our favourite Vogue cover illustrations from our exclusive archive.

spotlight Coming soon: Bella Freud

Arriving in November, an exclusive series of screen prints and limited edition prints by celebrated designer Bella Freud, drawn from her historic design archive.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Customer care
01273 511 942
Email us
Mon–Fri, 9 am–5 pm

All art prints and images on this website are copyright protected and belong to their respective owners. All rights reserved.