Housed in the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the United States, Les Grandes Baigneuses or The Large Bathers was painted by the Dutch artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir between 1884 and 1887. The painting which the artist worked on for around four years is a rejection of Impressionism. It is evident that although the landscape retains more of the loose Impressionist brushstrokes, the figures on the canvas have a classic touch and sculptural quality. The work marked the change of Renoir’s style after his initial success as an artist.
In 1881 Renoir visited Algeria, where he associated with the French artist Eugene Delacroix, the leader of the French Romantic School, and then visited Madrid to study the works of Diego Velazquez. After that he travelled to Italy to minutely observed Titian’s masterpieces in Florence and the paintings of Raphael in Rome. The experience of the studies led him to introspection when he tried to find a way to compromise the styles of the old masters and the new Impressionist style. The end result was the Large Bathers where he attempted to mix the style of the Great Masters with the principles of Impressionism. While trying to achieve his intended result, he followed the long tradition of bathers in art and showed three women bathing in the foreground, and the other two are busy washing in the background.
The Large Bathers by Pierre-Auguste Renoir depicts a group of nude women taking bath. Two voluptuous women in the foreground are seated beside the water body, and the third standing near them in the water appears to splash the one seated near her while she leans back to maintain a strategic distance from the imminent splash. Apart from the three, there are two other women in their process of taking their bath in the background.
Renoir worked on the theme of the Large Bathers and made numerous studies and sketches, including at least two full-sized figure drawings of the theme, until he became satisfied with the composition. The Large Bathers is devoid of any reference to the contemporary world and showed a timeless nature. One of the models for the composition is Aline Charigot, the blonde sitting behind, whom Renoir married in 1890, and another is Suzanne Valadon, an acclaimed painter of her time.
However, although Renoir is perhaps the best-loved of all the Impressionists, he had to face severe criticism for Large Bathers because of his new style. The harsh criticism made him tired and disillusioned, and he never again created paintings of this caliber. Nevertheless, today it widely appreciated for its attempt to balance history and modernity.