Patrick Noon

Delacroix wrote later in life that he never did anything of any value with his orientalist experience until he had forgotten all the details and remembered only what was most poetic. So you begin to see in his later work, these orientalist themes take on a much more imaginary imagery and they marry memory and imagination which are the two most important aspects of Delacroix’s work that subsequent artist look to.

So in the case of The Bathers this is the wonderful example of that idea, it’s based on an experience which he had in North Africa. This painting was done in 1854, so 20-some years after his North African experience. He and the Comte de Mornay were out in the countryside outside of Tangiers and they came upon two women, two Arab women who were washing clothes, and one of the women decided in their presence to disrobe and take a bath which of course was so against all mores etc, so it was a provocation.

These guys the Mornay and Delacroix and their guide were just mesmerized of course and then the cavalry came over the hill, the Arab gentleman who were supposedly minding these women, started shooting at them and trying to kill them and they managed to escape, but Delacroix writes about this instance as being, it was one of his more memorable life threatening experiences in North Africa, but had a poetic element to it.

So he decides to paint this bathing scene on commission and he incorporates the memory of that experience. And you can tell from the women in the foreground who are wearing North African garb. It was something that’s much poetic and traditional. The scene from a poem by the Renaissance poet Torquato Tasso, he’s merging an actual poetic idea with an experience and he is doing it all within the context of painting outdoors at his estate in Champrosay because he has become fascinated with the scientific study of color and the effects of light on color and objects and nature.

Eric Bruce

Hear about Delacroix’s rivalry with the artist Courbet by pressing the Green button.