Plus Size Women Throughout History: Courbet’s the Bathers

Courbet’s the Bathers

Anyone who has followed my own personal blog for a while would have seen that for my header, I’ve used a painting by Gustav Courbet entitled ‘The Bathers’. Painted in 1853, I’m jumping around history a little to cover different aspects of the ‘Plus Size Women Throughout History’ and I hope you’ll forgive me. In fact, I don’t think you can blame me when I tell you about naughty Courbet.

In a time that had completely fantasized and romanticized the image of women to be the ‘idealised woman’ (often pearly white skin, long hair and an immaculate ballerina-like figure) Courbet was a complete rebel. He felt you should paint things as they are, ‘warts and all’ and the public struggled with this. Throughout his work, he consistently showcases another element of the art world and forms a raw image of funeral scenes, dirty workers in fields and these rather fabulous fat women. Meet The Bathers.

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In The Bathers we see a large lady from behind, showcasing all the glory of her body walking away from a pool, with only a small towel to preserve her modesty. There is another woman, clothed, seated on the ground. The gestures by both women in this image are extremely uncharacteristic of those normally painted. A woman was normally painted as graceful, delicate and classical. Usually some classical work was replicated or idealised. However, Courbet has gone for a much more tangible subject. It may not seem shocking to us now, but I assure you it was at the time. The image was perceived as vulgar and offensive. It all came home to roost when people were offended by the realistic representation of the woman’s bodily details which shows her gorgeous love handles, and much like myself a lady with rather large calves and the odd fat roll.

Courbet's the Bathers

The image was displayed at the Salon in Paris (by force) as Courbet had won a medal and thus an entry into the exhibition. Unfortunately the response to both the painting and the models in it were terrible. Courbet’s work was thought of as dirty and crude. The whole scene differed from classical imagery and literature, it was a completely ‘pointless’ scene with nothing happening. It was all about the woman and her body. It’s thought Courbet added on the thin material to cover the lady’s bottom and preserve her modesty but he still found people were shocked. If you’re wondering about the perception of the bather? She was thought of as a piece of unappetising flesh and was cast off as dirty and repulsive.

Me? I love this piece. I feel there is a rare realism that wasn’t seen at this time. Men would often be displayed in paintings covered in blood and dirt as heroic, so what is so unappealing as a real woman with a ‘real’ body coming out of her little bath? I say BRAVO Courbet and I take my hat off to you and your gorgeous model. Let’s differ from the ‘norm’ and showcase a more realistic, diverse society.

Violet Glenton

Violet Glenton

Blogger, Cake-Lover, History Buff and Amazon Woman.
Violet Glenton

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