The subject matter of both paintings is nude females; our comparison will reveal the differences and look at what each artist is offering.
It is difficult to make out any of the facial features in Bathers, although the delineation of Cézanne’s work is purposeful and undefined forms were his way of simplifying the human form. A case in point, if we look at the figure third from the right, the gender is unclear. The squareness of the jaw, eyes wide apart and a fringe of hair falling foppishly across the forehead, are notably androgynous.
Vecchio’s painting however has clearly defined forms and facial features. The expression on the face of the nymph in the centre foreground, wistfully observing others climbing into the water, aptly demonstrates the photographic detail that Vecchio achieves.
Close scrutiny of Bathers, indicates that the figures are lit directly from the front, giving a flatter appearance to the scene. Nymphs however is lit from the left giving more of a three dimensional representation to the group.
Cézanne was renowned for his broad expressive multi directional brush strokes; know as a ‘painterly technique’. Thickly layered, lumpy paint gives a rough texture to this picture, with dark toning and an abundance of blue dominating the whole scene, giving a subdued mood and melancholy atmosphere. Indeed the lack of facial expression can, at first glance, give a sinister twist to this painting. Despite the orange sandy foreground, which attempts to add warmth to this setting. The over abundance of blue, overpowers the whole picture making it seem cold and uninviting.
Conversely, the Bathing Nymphs appear smooth and delicate; with crisp neat brushwork known as linear or minimal brushwork. Close attention to detail with tenderly created fine brush strokes accentuates the refined detail such as hair and skin. For instance the facial expression of the bather third from left as she tentatively puts her left leg into the water, along with the tautness of her muscles as our nymph perhaps anticipates plunging into cool water. Giving an image of almost photographic quality. The painting has a wide tonal range, which we can see from the light creamy skin of the nymphs to the blackness within the trees. Some nymphs hold sheets, which are in soft pastel colours, adding emphasis to the relaxing mood of the painting.
The most significant differences to these works of art are literally in the detail, in Vecchio’s painting there are no questions about the gender of our subjects, and his delicate attention to detail in the female form gives us a work to just look at and admire, with a voyeuristic gaze.
Cézanne allows us the freedom of imagination to wonder at the gender of his subjects and how they interact with each other. There is an air of ‘mystery and inaccessibility, which renders the meaning of the painting ambivalent’. (Dr JJ Millar, 2012). This may well be the purpose of Cézanne’s work, rather than admire a scene, we are being asked to explore it further.
The Open University (2008), AA100 Illustration Book (plates for Book 1 and 2), Milton Keynes, The Open University.
Charles Harrison (2008) ‘Cézanne’, in Reputations (AA100 Book 1), Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp.55-84.
The Open University (2012) Inside Art, Online tutorial, Chapter 1-5, The Open University resources, Milton Keynes.
Dr Millar J J (2012), assessment Summary for John Buckland, AA100 Assignment 01, unpublished work.
Presenting your bibliography, 6-7, in AA100 Assignment Booklet (October 2012), Milton Keynes, The Open University.