The Bather of Valpinçon

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Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, The Valpincon Bather, 1806

At first glance, The Valpinçon Bather passes on a sense of calming simplicity. Sitting on the edge of the bed, the model is framed by
tapestries that highlight the arching curve of her back. The staging is minimal: only green draperies and white linen bed sheets surround the sole subject of the painting—the bather. The folds and pleats of bed sheets accentuate the smoothness of her back while the heavy, solid green color on the draperies contrast the weightless quality of her flesh. The lighting is incredibly delicate; the model is bathed in diffuse light, as if a transparent gauze veil covers the surface. She seems consumed in her own world, unaware of the intrusion. 

During his career, Ingres takes on an unrelenting journey searching for the “ideal beauty.” He said, "I take as my example the great Poussin, who often repeated the same subjects." Ingres focuses on sensuous female nudes, a subject he is now most famous for. The Valpinçon Bather is considered the precursor to many Ingres’s later nudes, notably The Turkish Bath, with the same female nude model on the foreground. Despite the similarity, The Turkish Bath depicts an overly sexual theme whereas the model in The Bather conveys the exact opposite. 

More than a century later, the calm, idealistic portrayal of the bather inspired Man Ray, an American photographer, to create a series of photograph titled Le Violon d'Ingres (Ingres's Violin). Man Ray, an admirer of Ingres, altered the classic nude by rephotographing prints of f-holes onto the body. He photographed his favorite model, Kiki, in a setting and pose reminiscent of Ingres’s enchanting painting. As a tribute to Ingres, Ray’s transformation made the female body a violin, which is Ingres’s greatest passion besides painting. The title of the famous photograph eventually became an idiom in French, meaning a second hobby beyond the one by which a person is mainly known.

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