The bather of Valpinçon – Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres – 1808
Ingres, despite having a ridiculous amount of dashes in his name, was the favourite disciple of Jacques-Louis David, the official painter of the French revolution. Like him, Ingres considers himself a conservative, a dogmatic against the innovative romantic style that won many followers at that time.
After winning the Prix de Rome (Prize of Rome), Ingres moves to Italy, as was usual for the winners of that title. The bather of Valpinçon was his first work completed there. The painting shows a woman that has just finished taking a bath.
This work is, in a way, experimental, for the serious and formal Ingres as he usually paints people up front; but in here, she is with her back to us, making impossible to identify her. In the lower area of the composition, we see some kind of faucet and we notice part of the bathtub. It is curious that a bed is right next to it, but I guess that that may be a custom in that time. In any case, I am convinced that we see an upper class woman: her skin is extremely uniform and soft, flawless; and the smooth light just makes her more beautiful.
Some people think of a symbolic interpretation of this painting because the sheets, the bed, and the woman’ skin are immaculately white; and the curtains that gives the bathtub privacy, in the left corner of the work, has all dark tones. The act of bathing suggest not only the cleansing of the body, but of the soul. This symbol is inherited of the christian concept of baptism, where the believer is put under the water in order to be washed from sins and to be reborn as a new individual.
Or as well it can be an over-symbolization and there is just a woman, a bed and a curtain.