Bidets, bathtime and all things toilette are the stars of this lovely show at the Musée Marmottan-Monet, which celebrates the elevation of these prosaic subjects to high art from the 16th century to the present day. A rich and meticulously curated exhibition, it touches as much on history of art as on the evolution of society and its morals, medicine and public hygiene. If bathing remained an almost hedonistic collective ritual up until the end of the Middle Ages, during the 16th and 17th centuries we began to 'wash' ourselves without water behind closed doors, for fear of catching unpleasant diseases. This led to works showing the poor searching for lice, or to maidservants coiffing and perfuming the rich to hide their odours. The 18th centruy brought a change of register – flesh and colour emerge as artists exploring the sensuous potential of bathing scenes – the most permissive subject for canvases destined for bourgeois walls.
With the advent of modernity, running water and the 19th century avant garde, bathtimes regained their omnipresence in daily life. These intimate moments became privileged, the window onto a nascent individualism where society could explore naked bodies without intellectualising it – through the works of Degas and Bonnard in particular. In its closing section, the exhibition strteches its theme all the way up to the 20th century with a slightly confused mixture of geometric contemporary forms, reflections on cosmetics and the objectification of women, through the works of Picasso, Léger, Blumenfeld, Kupka, Erro and others. It all falls down rather at the last, but this doesn't detract from the brilliance of the rest of the selection.
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