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François Diday

Vue d'un lac, 1837
oil on canvas
116.0 x 157.0 cm
In the secrecy of a bay hidden behind rocks, female bathers accompanied by dogs revel in the sweet pleasures of a lake. On the horizon, a mountain looms up through the distant haze. Its reflection darkens the smooth surface of the water. A vista, starting from a rocky shore in the foreground, establishes on the right of the composition the depth of the landscape.

François Diday did several treatments of the subject of women bathing in a lake. This is probably the first occurrence of the theme, recorded in his sales notebook from 1837, the date when Vue d’un lac (View of a Lake) was painted. The picture proved so successful that the following year the painter executed four other versions of it. One of them was exhibited at the Salon of 1842 and earned Diday the Legion of Honour from King Louis-Philippe.

The theme of bathing women, quite fashionable in the 19th century amongst neoclassical landscape painters like Pierre-Louis De la Rive, is a frequent motif in the female nude. Women posed in the act of bathing had been a subject treated by artists since the Renaissance. Diana and her nymphs, Susanna and the elders, Bathsheba bathing, such mythological and biblical scenes circumvent modesty and the taboo to better enflame desire. These figures surface again and again throughout the evolution of forms and display the complexity of the gaze directed at female nudity. From Nicolas Poussin to Rembrandt through Paul Cézanne, Henri Fantin-Latour and right up to Pablo Picasso, the scene of women bathing both reveals and stimulates the artistic imagination.

François Diday, Vue d'un lac, 1837