Updated: Feb 1, 2021
Bathers Andre Derain Date: 1907 Style: Fauvism Media: Oil, canvas Dimensions: 132.1 x 195 cm Location: Museum of Modern Art, New York City, NY, USA
When first observing a painting, I like to first ask myself, "how does this painting make me feel?" and when it comes to Bathers, there is this feeling of wandering. But this statement can be vague, so I will clarify what I mean by the word 'wandering.' There are two figures who are looking upwards in different directions; one is a woman, this is obvious due to her breasts, and the other, who has their back turned towards us, I would presume to be a man, just by their short hair, but you may disagree with me, and that's okay. There is another figure, a woman, who is shielding herself with her arms while looking towards her left side, possibly to stay on guard of her surroundings.
Observing the woman who is shielding herself, one can then compare her stance to her companions', compared to them; she seems to be more on guard as to what is occurring or better yet, the situation in which they are all in. Her stance makes it seem as though she is uncomfortable with the unfamiliar surroundings or maybe, unlike the observers of the painting or her fellow companions, she knows something that we don't. Perhaps she has been told by others that it is dangerous to wander too far off or she is the apprehensive one of the group and doesn't think that they're going in the right direction? Her companions or we can refer to them as the other 'bathers,' seem to be concentrated on their own curiosity. They have their heads held high as they look around their surroundings and their body language seems more confident in the way that they move along the river and the soil path. The man who appears to be walking along the soil path pushes long grass aside as he continues, his upward gaze makes it seem as though he is amazed by the whole environment.
As stated before, the painting gives off a feeling of wandering, and it is the bathers that physically demonstrate this tone within the art, their forms, and body language, have helped to deepen the emotions that audiences may have. Derain's artistic background can help this evaluation by pinpointing why there is a feeling that radiates from the canvas in the first place. Derain is one of the founders of Fauve artistic movement. The artists who contributed to this movement were known for their use of intense color as a vehicle for describing light and space; they redefined pure colors and forms as means of communicating the artist's emotional state.
Fauvism was a movement that valued individual expression, this genre of art centered on the artist's direct experience of their subjects. Their emotional response to nature and their intuition were considered more important than academic theory and elevated subject matter. Artists were able to simplify forms, and their use of saturated colors projected moods and established a structure within their works without having to be true to the natural world.
Derain also aligned himself with the school of Symbolism, an artistic and literary movement that suggested ideas through symbols and emphasized the meaning behind forms, lines, and shapes. For a viewer who may have knowledge of Derain and fauvism, the bathers' figures and movements may cause them to see the Bathers doing more than just getting lost amongst their surroundings. Viewers can resonate with each of the bathers because they each seem to be reflecting on their individual thoughts and feelings. There is even a possibility that the viewer will question what the artist's intention for this painting may have been, was he possibly going through an existential crisis? Or was this painting Derain's emotional response to how humans interact with nature? For the viewer who may look at this painting with a blank slate, the bathers continue to make the viewer understand that they are not familiar with the surroundings and are caught up in their own personal worries and curiosity. Still, they are taking it all in as they continue to wander through the area and follow each other, one right behind the other.