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Camille Pissarro

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Aaron M. and Clara Weitzenhoffer






Camille Pissarro (France, 1830–1903)
Nude with Swans
, c. 1895
Gouache on paper
8 ½ x 6 ½ in.
Aaron M. and Clara Weitzenhoffer, 2000


In 1893, Camille Pissarro proposed in a letter to his son Lucien a series of nude bathers, though he was well aware of the possible impropriety in asking the reserved population of Éragny-sur-Epte to pose. The series, which would span three years and include diverse media, responded to an artistic tradition dating to the Renaissance, but one still practiced by modern artists, including one of Pissarro’s disciples, Paul Cézanne. Pairing a nude female bather with a bevy of swans also may have been intended as a subtle allusion to the myth of Leda and the Swan, in which the Greek god Zeus took the form of the waterfowl to seduce and then rape Leda, queen of Sparta and mother to Helen of Troy. Cézanne gave the myth erotic treatment in the early 1880s, following earlier precedents set by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo but, if Pissarro intended a reference to the myth, he preferred a more sedate, indirect interpretation. The swans flutter as they swim nearby the bather, who begins to dress having emerged from the stream. Pissarro painted Nude with Swans in opaque watercolor or gouache (pronounced “gwahsh”), and built his forms from dark to light with a crosshatch of linear strokes that invest the painting with a palpable energy. Although Pissarro may have intended the gouache as a study for a later oil, no extant painting exists.