Walk through the galleries of any great art museum and you’ll likely happen upon paintings of people (usually women) bathing. This trope has been ingrained in our visual vocabulary that it hardly merits a second glance. But why have artists been drawn to this subject, and how has it become part of the canon? What do these images tell us about the history of bathing, and cultural ideas about women, washing, and water?
From Cezanne to Cassatt, depictions of women delicately dipping their toes into basins actually reveals quite a lot about the evolution of our washing-up habits in the west, and societal attitudes towards female bodies and hygiene.
This episode, we reflect on how and why Western artists have depicted the bathing rituals of women throughout the centuries. We also chat with the artist Koak about her contemporary take on this storied genre, in particular exploring how she has reimagined the classic art genre which has often been stuck reproducing the same idealized, feminine, vulnerable and even mythical women over and over; creating an alternate visual landscape where her subjects are powerful, erotic, grotesque, playful and dynamic.
Plus, where’s the beef in all these paintings? We ponder the relative lack of dudes in bathing genre art.
A HUGE thank you to Koak for letting us invade her studio and talk about ladies in bathtubs. Be sure to check out pictures from her first solo exhibition, Bathers, which we discussed in this episode. You can follower her on Instagram under @annakoak and @theebather.
See Koak’s work in person at these upcoming art fairs and group shows:
Header image: A Company Bather in a Park by Jean-Baptiste Pater, c. 18th century. Courtesy of Nationalmuseum, Sweden.