17

Bathers by Pablo Picasso

From 1918 onward, Picasso spent all of his summers at the seashore, first at Biarritz, then on the Cote d'Azur or in Dinard. These sojourns inspired the creation of a new series of works on the theme of bathers. This small picture painted in 1918 in Biarritz, where the newlyweds were summering as the guests of Madame Errazuriz, was the first of the series. The theme of female nudity associated with the sea has a long tradition, extending from Botticelli's Venus to The Large Bathers of Paul Cezanne. Here, though, there is the additional allusion to the recently-introduced fashion of sea bathing, to which Picasso, with his Mediterranean origins, enthusiastically subscribed. A contemporary drawing of bathers gives an idea of the healthy, active life of vacationers on sunny beaches, free of cumbersome clothing and cares. 

This canvas, which Picasso kept for his own reference, occupies a special place in his work: the detailed realism, the simple and direct handling, the sinuous grace of the lean and lithe bodies are rare features - Picasso usually portrays more generously-endowed female anatomies. 

The transparency of the light notwithstanding, these prosaic modern Venuses in their clinging swimsuits, the biomorphic forms of the rocks and pebbles, the stillness of the sea, the frozen gestures of the bathers, and the ecstatic attitude of the standing woman with her tentacular hair produce an overall impression of strangeness and menace, a surrealistic atmosphere comparable to certain seascapes by Tanguy.