The Artist and the Nude:
In a letter of July 3, 1893, Pissarro mentioned his interest in depicting female bathers, but observed that he was short of funds and had no idea how he would find a model. This was an understandable concern for a painter who was chronically short of money and lived in Eragny, an old-fashioned community where women rarely bared their arms or ankles, and certainly not their naked bodies. Even so, he found one or two models, as there are drawings and paintings of nudes, some of which must have been observed, as well as a large group of prints (in The Met’s collection, see 21.60.4
, and 47.90.2
). These show women singly or in groups, nude or partly clothed, usually either beside a stream or knee deep in the water. Pissarro was still making lithographs of bathers in 1897. The various related works show him revisiting a subject over four years in a wide variety of media.A Pissarro Model:
Despite the challenges, Pissarro succeeded in posing a nude at this time, as a succession of closely related works attests. In a large, undated drawing in colored chalks, a standing nude woman is seen from behind, turned slightly to left, her head inclined, her arms drawn close to her body (Full-length Standing Nude Woman Viewed from Behind
, ca. 1894, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, PD.51-1947). Her hair is tied up in a knot and she has sloping shoulders, long thin arms and legs, and large feet. The same person, fair, with light brown hair, assuming a similar pose—with adjustments to the right arm and the angle of the feet—is the subject of an 1895 painting in which she stands in a room that could be an artist’s studio, Interior with Nude from the Back
(private collection). A window loosely draped with a white cloth lets in light from the left, while, to the right, her clothing is draped over a chair. The figure appears again in a similar pose, standing on a chemise she holds with her left hand, as one of a group of three bathers beside a stream in an upright landscape dated 1896, Bathing Women
(Hiroshima Museum of Art, B 17).The Painting:
Given her long, thin limbs, pale skin, and light hair arranged in a knot, it is likely that the model who posed for Pissarro as a standing nude also sat for, or inspired, the figure in the 1895 Bather in the Woods
. Her outsized feet rest on a patch of grass by the water, and her clothes lie beside her under a tree. Seated on a bank, she leans forward, straightening her arms and hands to dry the calf of her leg with a cloth. Although, by this time, Pissarro had abandoned his experiments with Pointillism, the colors, predominantly greens, are methodically applied over the whole surface to create a studied effect. Even the figure is partly modeled in green. Faint lines marking the contours of the body show through the light-colored pigments. Attention is given to stippling the water and foliage in a variety of small strokes; softly lit passages are balanced against darker ones.
The eighteenth-century master François Boucher, Pissarro’s predecessor Jean-François Millet, and his younger colleague Paul Cézanne have been proposed as possible sources of inspiration for this atypical nude. Bather in the Woods
was the first work by the artist to enter The Met’s collection, as part of the bequest of Louisine Havemeyer (1855–1929) in 1929. It was one of six Pissarros she had owned with her husband, Horace O. Havemeyer (1847–1907), another of which, The Harvest, Pontoise (La Récolte, Pontoise)
, is in the Robert Lehman Collection (The Met 1975.1.197
Pissarro first presented a figure in the same pose, the shallow stream, and a similar landscape background to The Met’s picture in an oil sketch dated 1894, Woman Washing Her Feet in a Brook
(Indianapolis Museum of Art, 48.17), in which a young woman with darker hair is fully clothed. She wears a mauve blouse and a black skirt over voluminous white petticoats which spread around her and shield her upper legs. Blue stockings and clogs lie on the grass beside her. A larger, heavily pigmented, stylized finished painting showing a similarly clothed figure and the same setting is dated 1895 (Art Institute of Chicago, 1999.364). The lighter-haired model in the Chicago picture has a bronze-colored blouse, her dark skirt is folded back to reveal a lining, and, again, a petticoat covers her legs to the knees. The stockings and clogs reappear. Pissarro referred to the Chicago picture when writing to his son Lucien (1863–1944) on November 22, 1894, that a canvas of the same size showing “a little peasant girl dipping her feet in the water” was nearly finished. A drawing of a woman in red and black chalks, Study of a Young Woman Bathing Her Legs
(Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, WA1952.6.360), a preparatory study for the Chicago painting, omits the lining of the skirt to expose the upper left leg. A monotype offers a simplification of the composition (ca. 1894–95, The Met 47.90.3
A slight drawing focusing on the arrangement of the nude and the foliage on the left bank of the stream appeared at Sotheby’s, London, on July 29, 2020, as lot 459. A gouache of a very pale, heavy figure with dark hair seated on a bank by the water in a simplified landscape, her clothes by her side, is in The Burrell Collection, Glasgow. Additionally, a small canvas of a blond nude partly draped in a chemise standing under trees by a river (National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1963.10.54), signed and dated 1895, offers a more relaxed and engaging interpretation of the typically Impressionist subject. Pissarro’s interpretations suggest how flexible he was, with the capacity to vary his style at any moment.
Katharine Baetjer 2022
 “Je serai arrêté par l’impossibilité de me procurer un modèle.” Camille Pissarro, Letter to Lucien Pissarro, July 3, 1893, in Janine Bailly-Herzberg, ed., Correspondance de Camille Pissarro
, 3/1891–94, 1988, p. 341.
 Pissarro and Durand-Ruel Snollaerts 2005, vol. 3, no. 1064, colorpl.
 Bailly-Herzberg, 3/1891–94, 1988, p. 513, where Pissarro described “une Petite Paysanne
qui trempe ses pieds dans l’eau, toile de trente.”
 Pissarro and Durand-Ruel-Snollaerts 2005, vol. 3, p. 678, colorpl.