La Toilette : Naissance de l'intime

Art, Painting
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 (Eugène Lomont, 'Jeune femme à sa toilette', 1898 / Beauvais, Musée départemental de l’Oise / © RMN Grand Palais / Thierry Ollivier )
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Eugène Lomont, 'Jeune femme à sa toilette', 1898 / Beauvais, Musée départemental de l’Oise / © RMN Grand Palais / Thierry Ollivier
 (Erwin Blumenfeld, 'Study for an advertising photograph', 1948 / © Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Christian Bahier / Philippe Migeat / © Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld)
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Erwin Blumenfeld, 'Study for an advertising photograph', 1948 / © Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Christian Bahier / Philippe Migeat / © Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld
 (Pierre Bonnard, 'Nu dans la baignoire' / © Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris / Christian Baraja / ADAGP, Paris 2015 )
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Pierre Bonnard, 'Nu dans la baignoire' / © Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris / Christian Baraja / ADAGP, Paris 2015
 (Ecole de Fontainebleau, 'Gabrielle d’Estrées et la Duchesse de Villars au bain', Fin du XVIe / Musée Languedocien / © Musée de la Société Archéologique / Bridgeman Images)
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Ecole de Fontainebleau, 'Gabrielle d’Estrées et la Duchesse de Villars au bain', Fin du XVIe / Musée Languedocien / © Musée de la Société Archéologique / Bridgeman Images
 (František Kupka, 'Le rouge à lèvres', 1908 / © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Jean-Claude Planchet / ADAGP, Paris 2015 )
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František Kupka, 'Le rouge à lèvres', 1908 / © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Jean-Claude Planchet / ADAGP, Paris 2015
 (Edgar Degas, 'Après le bain, femme nue couchée', 1885-1890 / © Suisse, Collection Nahmad / Raphaël Barithel)
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Edgar Degas, 'Après le bain, femme nue couchée', 1885-1890 / © Suisse, Collection Nahmad / Raphaël Barithel
 ( Théophile Alexandre Steinlen, 'Le bain', 1902 /  © Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts de Lausanne)
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Théophile Alexandre Steinlen, 'Le bain', 1902 / © Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts de Lausanne
 (François Boucher, 'L’Œil indiscret' ou 'La Femme qui pisse', c. 1742 / Collection particulière / © Christian Baraja )
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François Boucher, 'L’Œil indiscret' ou 'La Femme qui pisse', c. 1742 / Collection particulière / © Christian Baraja
 (Pablo Picasso, 'Femme à la montre', 30 avril 1936 / © RMN-Grand Palais / René-Gabriel Ojéda / © Administration Picasso 2015)
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Pablo Picasso, 'Femme à la montre', 30 avril 1936 / © RMN-Grand Palais / René-Gabriel Ojéda / © Administration Picasso 2015
 (Pays-Bas du Sud, 'Le Bain, tenture de la vie seigneuriale', Vers 1500 / © RMN Grand Palais (musée de Cluny - musée national du Moyen-Âge) / Franck Raux )
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Pays-Bas du Sud, 'Le Bain, tenture de la vie seigneuriale', Vers 1500 / © RMN Grand Palais (musée de Cluny - musée national du Moyen-Âge) / Franck Raux
 ( Abraham Bosse (d’après), 'La Vue (femme à sa toilette)', après 1635 / © Tours, musée des Beaux-Arts )
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Abraham Bosse (d’après), 'La Vue (femme à sa toilette)', après 1635 / © Tours, musée des Beaux-Arts
 (Georges de La Tour, 'La Femme à la puce', 1638 / Nancy, Musée Lorrain / © RMN-Grand Palais / Philippe Bernard)
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Georges de La Tour, 'La Femme à la puce', 1638 / Nancy, Musée Lorrain / © RMN-Grand Palais / Philippe Bernard
 (Bettina Rheims, 'Karen Mulder with a very small Chanel bra', janvier 1996 / © Bettina Rheims / Studio Bettina Rheims)
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Bettina Rheims, 'Karen Mulder with a very small Chanel bra', janvier 1996 / © Bettina Rheims / Studio Bettina Rheims

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.

By: TB/EH

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