Cezanne’s Large Bathers: Painting Raw Experience

Cezanne’s Large Bathers: Painting Raw Experience


“The Large Bathers” by Paul Cezanne is a painting that dawns on you. At first you see the whole: a group of women bathing by a river, a subject that’s anything but original. The canvas is composed in a balanced geometry of triangles: one for the group on the left, one for those on the right, and one comprising them all, bounded by the leaning trees. But after a minute, you start to notice things like the figures behind the river, or the swimmer in the water or, almost disturbingly, that none of the bathers have any definable faces, or that their bodies seem to fold into one another, as if they’ve been painted over – but not completely. The more you stare at it, the more the canvas seems a chaos of elements deliriously rendered with a spontaneity that feels almost negligent. Of course, we know that Cezanne labored on this painting for seven years, all the way up to his death. Spontaneity is certainly part of the message. But the painter was intensely purposeful in what he wanted to say, and how he wanted to convey it. From our perspective, across the gulf of cubism and all imaginable forms of abstraction, it’s hard for Cezanne’s distortions of color and form to shock us – yet, that’s exactly what they did in 1906, at the painting’s first exhibition. It’s not wrong to say that Cezanne initiated what became the 20th century’s endless experimentation. As Picasso himself said, “Cezanne is the father of us all.” In this way, he can sort of be seen as the bridge between what came before and all that was to come. “The Large Bathers” reaches in the past, recalling similar scenes of nudes or bathers like those by Titian, or Nicolas Poussin, or Thomas Eakins, among others. Certain of the figures evoke postures from older works: the woman on the left, striding upwards with the tree, for example, bears a resemblance to an 18th-century sculpture of the goddess Diana. Or, take the woman on the right, here, who’s raised knee and shoulders remember the classical Venus de Milo by Alexandros of Antioch. And, perhaps it should be noted that none of the 14 women we see here were drawn from real models. Cezanne took his examples from other works and picture books, adding to that disquieting sense of remove that these figures have from any identifiable personalities. That remove – that alienation – is echoed everywhere in the painting. Of the 14 women, six are simply turned away from the viewer, a few are even in the process of dissolving or emerging from the foliage all around them. Most unsettling of all, the figures are pocked with areas of white, which, on closer examination, proves not to be any paint at all, but the bare canvas itself – interrupting the scene as if some force from a world beyond. What is Cezanne trying to do here? What do these disturbances amount to? What are the effects of his short, flat brushstrokes, of distilling everything into its geometrical basis, or freezing in paint that which doesn’t appear to be a scene at all, but something on the verge of becoming a scene – or else, of dissolving out of one. Cezanne is emerging out of Impressionism, a movement that was obsessed with how colors and light really appeared to the eye. How did the atmosphere – the rain or the sunset – affect the visual impression of the observer? The Impressionists explored this by going out into nature and painting rapidly, applying just what they saw to the canvas in front of them. Cezanne took the palette of the Impressionists, retaining the brilliant, often surprising colors used to evoke nature’s effect on us; but he took color a step further and applied it to express form as well. Ever since the Renaissance, depth was rendered via perspective. Cezanne seems to realize that Renaissance perspective is only a kind of code, by which we understand the third dimension in a canvas. Seeing itself, the perception as distinct from the understanding, may not work on those principles; it may be far more unruly than that. This is why he didn’t shy away from distortion of objects, of using colors to bring elements in the background forward, or melt things in the foreground into the architecture of colors that hold them there. There’s a difference between the way we know what we see and how we actually see it. Our minds are so incredibly good at taking the anarchic varieties of sensible experience and within milliseconds, composing them into intelligible wholes. It happens so fast that we can’t even access that actual moment of perception, and for the most part, we should be happy about that, because raw experience, like a kind of trauma, is just too much for us to withstand. In “The Large Bathers,” Cezanne uses his various techniques to visit that moment of perception. Confronted with it aesthetically, all that’s unsettling about experience is frozen for our contemplation. In life, it’s a bridge we just can’t cross – take a look at that man on the other side of the river. Many think that this figure is Cezanne himself, situated between the classical, constructed diorama of bathers and the pastoral, impressionistic church scene in the distance. I’d bet, if we could turn the painting around and see it from that perspective, it would look just as sensual, erotic and beautiful as something by Titian or any other painter who depicted a similar scene in the past. But from our vantage, the one Cezanne gave to us, we’re allowed a fugitive access to something far more disturbing: the real. [music] Hey everybody, if you wanna help me keep making these videos, I’m doing a big push for Patreon pledges – everything helps, as little as $1 per video. It really is the pledges that allow me to continue making this channel, and the more I get, the more time and effort I can spend on making really cool stuff, and I have a LOT of stuff in the works right now, which is gonna be really great. If you think the Nerdwriter is something that you’re not seeing anywhere else and you want to see more of it, pledging is really the way to help me. So thank you so much, and here are some more videos. [music]

100 Comments

  • John Bosquet-Morra says:

    while this is an "important picture," it is ugly. The Titian blows its doors off.

  • Finn Hafnmr says:

    It looked like Pollocks drip became the tree in the background

  • Greg Stark says:

    Those last words had me aquiver :0 What is the name of the melody at the end?

  • Arturosuman Suman says:

    Thank you Nerdwriter1 for sharing with us ur knowledge of understanding such beautiful pieces of art. For your next study i would love to see… Michelangelo

  • Potting Soil says:

    M O R E A E S T H E T I C S

  • marwinout says:

    do adventure time!!!!

  • Mignonne Busser says:

    I love this channel

  • Jamie Xavier says:

    Could you Do a Video on Impression: Sunrise the Painting by Claude Monet?

  • Jep Hep says:

    5:00 looked like that scene in its such a beautiful day (big Don)

  • My Butler Jives says:

    Great videos! I'd love to see a video on Rothko. I would watch it with great interest.

  • The Zeit Way says:

    Excellent video and channel, The Nerdwriter!… I've just subscribed! Just launched my own channel 'The Zeit Way' and hope to expand it soon 😀

  • Laura M says:

    Wanna know the irony Nerdist? Now I'm studying you…!
    (Not in a creepy way) X

  • Hidden Mist says:

    i wonder what ol Bob Ross would say about Cezannes paintings

  • Sav Gibbs says:

    fuck dude i've watched three or four of your videos and every single one is like shit i need to find something else he's talking about that i enjoy and i'm sure eventually i'll get past that and watch everything and learn so much about stuff I dont even know much about! Keep up the great great work

  • Matthew Northenscold says:

    I am a fan of your videos, but I must dispute your closing assertion. You say that the "raw experience" blobs of color that our eyes take in, as opposed to the intelligible wholes that our minds perceive, are “the real”. But the world is not made of blobs of color. It is made of things, wholes. Our minds interpret what our eyes take in, and enable us to see the world accurately. Halting the process at the “blobs of color” stage and calling it “reality” is as foolish as proposing that a photographic negative gives us a more accurate picture of the world than the developed photo.

  • Laila Hzaineh says:

    I've seen this video more than 7 times already. I absolutely love the ways you deconstruct art works and analyze them. I would love to see a video on Joseph Wright's An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump.

  • ibrahim öztürk says:

    your analyses are epic. just discovered your channel and trying to get every piece of information in it. and what was that beautiful ending music piece? anyone else to refer?

  • Xue Zhe says:

    who came here just for boobs?

  • Alistair Drennan says:

    I shouldn't have watched this high

  • branclooster says:

    I think it's safe to say that I don't understand art.

  • TheMusicalInquiry says:

    (Say-zahn)

  • Janka Antalova says:

    the real, perception and colour, pretty much the most important things to understand Cezanne 🙂 great video

  • Alfonso Perez says:

    The what? I cant frikin understand the last word. Holy god I love this channel.

  • Safwan says:

    Really, really insightful video. Excellent

  • drummermike89 says:

    This is incredible analysis

  • m m says:

    i wish i could just go to a museum and have someone talk to me about the art piece in such a philosophical way

  • Vegetarians Taste Better says:

    do a Matisse painting

  • Interstellar Overdrive says:

    YOU GO MAN

  • Leah 'T says:

    This painting is haunting

  • Pierre Schwartz says:

    please do Matisse, Renoir and Klimt

  • ETFbvbAA says:

    I like this channel

  • valzerna says:

    WOW… I love this channel! Maybe you could analyze a painting by Hieronymus Bosch and something by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio? Ohhh and why not a Goya ??!!!  😀 Thank you for your awesome work, i just found your channel today, and i'm speechless! Your in-depth analysis are really amazing and interesting! Great work! Greetings from Italy 🙂

  • Kat T says:

    Im binge watching ALL OF THESE!! I cant wait to see more!

  • Linda R. says:

    So weird how now most scenes and activities in these paintings would be considered obscene or illegal. Public bathing, being naked with your friends, lounging around naked together, a gathering of more than 10 people without a special event permit, contaminating the water, etc etc…

  • Rei Ramos says:

    This channel is so beautiful and I seriously like the art theory videos the most. It's such a shame I can't financially support this great channel

  • WMICx says:

    Came back to this after watching split

  • Sam. X. says:

    I don't think I need to "understand" art as historical facts, it's not an intellectual pursuit or something to be decoded and consumed. Good video tho, helpful for painters and artists in a technical way that doesn't affect the experience and value of a painting.

  • Jennifer Bell says:

    When you mentioned the figure as him everything just clicked. the reason the women are faceless and without personality is because they are the unpainted. Since they were not seen by an artist they were not given these features. Because like you said nothing real can be truly painted so if he were to paint them recognizably he would be putting his own bias into the painting and thus making it less 'true' per say. I don't know if I'm making any sense but I truly love videos like these and I like having educated discussions about in depth analysis and such.

  • Mau Cardoso says:

    Dude your voice is so nice and soothing, love your channel. I'd love you to analyze some Diego Rivera. Maybe the "Man at the Crossroads" that he was supposed to be painted at the Rockefeller Center! Looking forward to see more videos. Greeting from Mexico!

  • Clare Flattery says:

    PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do more art and poetry videos!!!! I am totally in love and obsessed!!!

  • priscila antonio says:

    I found it interesting when they highlighted this exact painting in the movie 'split'

  • Robert Townsend says:

    Can you expand on "the real" ? I with you at the beginning, but you lost me at the end.

  • Tupac Palomeque says:

    Great! Incredible nice editing.

  • Trevor Cameron says:

    Excellent videos.

    A request for Ernst Ludwig Kirchner!

  • L'Quik Shrtz says:

    Beautiful videos, im glad i found this

  • Courtney C says:

    Even while studying this in art school, I always thought this painting was overrated and overanalyzed. Still do.

  • Vebjørn Pedersen says:

    Do something on Francis Bacon!

  • Lemuel Cang says:

    "Raw Trauma" the phrase triggered the memory of when i watched bridge to terabithia and when i got spoiled right before the spoiler event happened

  • Isabelle Ruiz De La Orden says:

    hey, could you provide me with some of the sources you used for this video? Im writing an essay on this painting and would like to check out some of the works you may have used. Thank you!!!!

  • sommarn08 says:

    These videos are truly amazing!

  • Student - Baihan Zhao says:

    The video is fantastic! Really help me for my further study of art in IGCSE of Paul Cezanne. Thanks a lot!!!!

  • Joshua Van Alstyne says:

    I haven't heard this level of art review in a long time! thank you! do more! please!

  • Reason says:

    This is what's destroying art. This is what's wrong with the world. How can any person look at this and be at awe? If anything bewilderment and frustration is what people would feel, we need an artistic revolution; something that would ignite a second renaissance.

  • Gabriela Sélavy says:

    Cezanne's work, more than this particular painting, is magnificent in many ways, Cezanne was the typical ignored genius, only because at that time he was alive, he was portraying the world in a different form. He was a truly innovator, the way I used the colors to express three dimensional space represented in two dimensional paint, the way he used to portrait himself on the paintings … Cezanne was beyond fantastic. Thanks for this video btw, it's really good content!

  • mitra foldinggate says:

    great artist dont do unnecessary things isn't it?

  • Mahmud Shaan says:

    please make videos on vincent van gogh and also claude monet. love your work.

  • . says:

    I'm not an expert or anything but I think this is the artist dream, u know how sometimes u get this wonderful dream and when u wake up u try to recap it, but u can't remember any of the faces, u only remember how good it felt ?

  • Oscar Pedersen says:

    pls do more art videos

  • nupinoop296 says:

    Every time I glanced away from the screen, the middle of the painting looked like a face…

  • Valenchina says:

    Hi nerdwriter ! First of all, u make exceptionally great videos ! I really love watching them and learning so much because of them 🙂 keep up the good work 🙂 and secondly, I have a request: please watch Dust my shoulders off, a song by Jane Zhang. It's a music video, which incorporates a lot of famous paintings and I thought it was so cool! Maybe u will find joy in that video 🙂 or maybe, maybe even make a video about the paintings mentioned in that music video 😀 😀 have a great day 👍🏻 ☀️

  • KingTangerine says:

    What's your favorite Cezanne?

    Winter…

  • Sonja Evans says:

    Please please please keep making painting videos

  • Brian Hudson says:

    ENJOY YOUR VIDEOS. MY ONLY COMMENT WOULD BE REGARDING THE "LAS MENINAS" VIDEO. IT IS TITLED, " IS THIS THE BEST PAINTING IN HISTORY?" BEST WOULD IMPLIE COMPARISON AMONG A GROUP. "LAS MENINAS" IS WITHOUT COMPARISON. IT HAS NO EQUAL. THE ADJECTIVE THAT APPLIES IS GREATEST. FOR " GREATEST" IS A QUESTION OF ACCOMPLISHMENT. IT IS THE ULTIMATE ARTISTIC ACCOMPLISHMENT. IT IS THE GREATEST PAINTING IN ART.

  • # Jordano Santos Cerqueira says:

    Recomended vídeo in facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thiago.rigoti/posts/10208591266810192

  • H S says:

    This is beautiful

  • MrNicoJac says:

    What is the song used as outtro?

  • David DeMar says:

    Omg brilliant, just brilliant! levels beyond the introduction to art history class that I was required to take as an undergraduate at Columbia as part of the Core Curriculum.loved that class. without it I would not have been able to understand and enjoy this video as much as I did. Your videos are treasures. I look fwd to the day when i will see longer form programs exec.produced by you on PBS or Ovation 😊

  • IsraelDiegorivera Eugeniolucientesgenius says:

    What a loud of nonsense, journey into real? Whats is real about a Cezanne? His painting are a step away from the real. I am sure Cezanne never thought about his paintings in this way. In the end no painting is real, it is just a form of painted perception. Cezanne paintings were mixture of incompetence and brilliance.

  • Demetrius Fuller says:

    So great that you take this on – you're courageous and probing. I do notice that twice you've referred to this pieces that are in this cubist, geometrically abstracted style (you also did so in your analysis of the Picasso fishing piece) as disturbing. I don't want to invalidate your takeaway, but I have to say this:

    I notice that people often refer to famous cubist-type pieces as disturbing, tormented, and other words that evoke something scary or angry. As a painter and a lover of those artists, I don't see it that way. Rather, I think it is a way to convey the physicality of Reality through a strictly-visual medium. I think this painting, for example, is a complete display of harmony (which you do allude to via your compositional breakdown with the triangles, etc); the "disturbing" nature only comes when we look at it as if it WERE our visual field. It isn't – it's a visual representation of a more multi-modal perceptual experience – that gestalt.

    Concluding that pieces like this one by Picasso or Cezanne are disturbing is certainly a valid opinion to have, but it is a bit like judging the sheet music for a Beethoven concerto on it's visual composition. I think that is one of the big misconceptions about some abstract art – especially the really brilliant stuff by people like Cezanne or Picasso – it's not meant to be digested by the direct channels. It's more like one of those Magic Eye pictures from the 90s (autostereograms, i think they're called) – when you focus onto the right dimension, the picture snaps into place, and it magically is 3D – it transcends its medium. I think you get at that idea in your analysis, but when you call it disturbing at the end, something tells me you haven't gone all the way across the river to Cezanne. Please know that I know that this whole rant sounds SUPER patronizing, but I have a feeling you know what I mean. And thank you for your work – I think you're brilliant.

  • Nikola Novkovic says:

    an amazing content but your French…. quelle horreur!

  • Tori Farrell says:

    Do more art case studies!

  • mcdeez nuts says:

    am i the only one that feels like he's over analyzing the painting?

  • Zayd Muhamed says:

    Amazing analysis!!!! Hats off!

  • spacey tree says:

    Does it mean anything that they don’t have nipples???

  • Hdc Gzhz says:

    great vídeo but Picasso said that because how Cézanne studied realitty, sinthesising objects to geométric forms and the "facetado" (in spanish) a técnico of making volumes

  • Pink River Dolphin says:

    You're brilliant.

  • capavaloae says:

    You're absolutely stellar.

  • Sarah Allegra says:

    I LOVE these art review videos so much! They’re so different from everything else on YouTube today. You can really appreciate the time and careful, meticulous study that went into each one. Thank you!! They make my little artist heart swell with satisfaction 😊

    I personally am a huge fan of the Pre-Raphealites; maybe a video about the movement in general? Or one about my two favorite painters, John William Waterhouse or Dante Gabriel Rossetti? Maybe talk about Waterhouse’s mystery model who took over his paintings after she was introduced (See Hylas and the nymphs, or La Belle Dam Sans Merci)? Or a closer look at any of his paintings? Or Rossetti’s? You could discuss his really singular use of intense colors, like Daydream or Prosperpine. That deep green he often employs makes my eyes sing with joy 😊 And then there’s the incredibly awkward yet somehow natural looking posing of his models (like Daydream) where their necks are twisted and their hands are always so on display. Just some thoughts from one art lover to another! Keep up the excellent work, if I can afford it, I’ll join your patreon. 💚💙💚

  • Go Spidey Go! says:

    Boobs.

    Lolsies😹😹

  • SiTara says:

    Please make a video about Michael Vrubel. His paintings literally drove him crazy, so it's interesting story to tell

  • Andrew Mowbray says:

    I love watching an old Nerdwritter video and knowing when the video is about to end because of the music cue.

  • Juan Diego Buriticá says:

    I just can't stop coming back. Hope you keep doing art videos like these! Just beautiful.

  • Molly Smith says:

    Your art analyses are the best

  • Robert Townsend says:

    This painting speaks the truth.

  • Antara Pramanick says:

    Why is abstract art more appreciated than realistic art?

  • Stanley Johnson says:

    Absolutely love this video, and all your art analyses. Please do more

  • Suzanne Han says:

    Thank you for this brilliant informative video ! Really eye opening.
    I do hope you will produce more painting analyses videos !

  • aerie Kop says:

    After watch for sometime, If you look at the picture in two parts from the middle. Picture show two angles, one is ours, which is on the right, and the other on left is from perspective/angle of the person on the other side of the stream, so, when we look at ladies from our side the reality, we see image on right side but when we see through the man (standing on the other side of stream) eyes we see the image on the left.

  • Xavi Vergés says:

    More like this please me and my family love them!

  • 811414182梦见 says:

    I love no nerdwriter videos more than those of the understanding art series.

  • It's Kyuu says:

    I now understand this painting less.

  • Michael Pavan says:

    The Only thing I come on the computer for – Understanding Art

  • Whuzzin Gamont says:

    Wait so the point of this painting is to explore the idea of perception? How we perceive, how we think we perceive and how even though with so much distortion our brain still configures and image?

  • Ashley says:

    Im here to figure out why this painting was featured in the movie Split🤔

  • SaL your PaL says:

    Just finished watching every video you posted. Amazing work man 🙏🙏

  • Karen M. says:

    The last 2 minutes of your essay don't feel right or earned. Raw experience, trauma, too real? Huh? However given some clues as you present, it seems to me the painting is not merely capturing depth perspective but the dimension of time moving on. The forground is like the ruins of Venus de Milo, chipped paint and all. Though there is Cezzane, having crossed the river ( of time?) Moving on towards the new artistic expression. Using the classical model of perspective it seems he's capturing almost a motion of time and the river seems to be almost a line in the sand, ( haha). As you so helpfully show the reverse image being very classically beautiful, untouchable, pristine, and for him, broken, indistinguishable, decaying like ancient ruins. Cezanne, moving into the future, shows his back to it.

  • imam Baybars says:

    Cezanne is a better artist than Spanish artists, who are better than French artists, but he is not a better artist than Picasso. That’s the most cezannesque sentence I have typed this week.

  • Arpit Bhugul says:

    Cezanne made us a part of the painting he is watching!

  • hexll says:

    it took him 7 years to paint that?

  • Knowledge is Power says:

    Look from above… It may have a different meaning.

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