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The Gothic bathroom.
MALLET Jean Baptiste (1759 - 1835)
TOULOUSE-LAUTREC by Henri (1864 - 1901)
Title: The Gothic bathroom.
Author : MALLET Jean Baptiste (1759 - 1835)
Creation date : 1810
Dimensions: Height 40.5 - Width 32.5
Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas.
Storage location: Dieppe Castle-Museum website
Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - Bulloz
Picture reference: 00-004895
The Gothic bathroom.
© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - Bulloz
Title: The toilet.
Author : TOULOUSE-LAUTREC by Henri (1864 - 1901)
Creation date : 1896
Date shown: 1896
Dimensions: Height 67 - Width 54
Technique and other indications: Oil on cardboard.
Storage location: Orsay Museum website
Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowskisite web
Picture reference: 96-003219 / RF2242
© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski
Publication date: April 2011
The "bathroom" and its representation in the XIXe century
During the XIXe century, hygiene is gradually becoming a real object of political and social concern. Beyond the multiple actions of "public health and sanitation" carried out by the various public and private organizations which are developing, the emphasis is on the need to educate the populations. As illustrated The toilet, we usually wash in the room using basins or tubs arranged for this purpose and then put away. However, The Gothic bathroom shows that the better-off can have rooms exclusively intended for washing, with real bathtubs.
If it is not attached to a dedicated space, the home toilet nevertheless becomes a moment of full private life. In this regard, The Gothic bathroom (1810) and The toilet (1899), which both represent a woman at her toilet, allow us to better approach this practice, its places, its representations and their evolution.
The bath, from the back
Painter of libertine and worldly subjects, but also genre scenes (rustic and mythological) or even portraits, Jean-Baptiste Mallet (1759-1835) is one of the representatives of the “troubadour style” specific to the 1800-1830 period. . Putting the Middle Ages back in the spotlight, the painters of this movement choose themes and settings from the medieval period, with a great concern for realism. So in The Gothic bathroom, the patterned paving of the floor, the nature and color of the stone (walls and bathtub), the simple and pure rectangular shape of the bathtub, the stained glass window, the door, the walls and the ceiling of the room (use pointed arches, impression of height, space and emptiness) and the accessories precisely recall the Gothic style. In the center of the room appears a naked woman seen from behind, lit by the light from the window. Completing her undressing, she removes the last strap of her white body dress. Looking at the latter, she offers her profile to the viewer. To her left, a large armchair where she has placed the red dress she has already taken off. Under the window is a rectangular stone bathtub, ready to welcome the woman.
With The toilet (also called Redhead), painting produced in 1899, Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) chose one of his favorite themes and depicts a woman captured in her privacy, more precisely at her toilet. Occupying the center of the composition and presented three-quarters in close-up, the woman wears red hair (another obsession of the painter) which, raised in a bun, reveals to the viewer a very white back, a little emaciated and muscular. Sitting on a white sheet spread out on the black carpet that covers the wooden floor, she stands with her arms on her knees and seems thoughtful. Another sheet wraps around her lower body. Her right leg is wearing a half-removed black stocking. In front of her, between two rattan seats appears the metal basin which is used for the toilet.
The moment of the toilet, between symbolic and realistic representation
With The toilet, Toulouse-Lautrec explores a theme often dealt with at the time, notably by Pierre Bonnard and by Edgar Degas. The latter's influence is evident, particularly in the use of color and pastel tones. Like him, Toulouse-Lautrec shows women “through the keyhole”, with great realism, both for the description of the places and for that of the characters. The moment of the toilet here concerns a woman of modest means and proceeds with simplicity, as in everyday life of the time. Conversely, The Gothic bathroom is a more symbolic, more dreamy representation. The room could well be in a castle, and the scene is like ageless, or plunged into the unreal time of chivalry. Hygiene does not appear here as a practice integrated into everyday life.
Despite their differences, the two paintings suggest that the toilet is a time of reverie and reflection, the intimacy of which women enjoy, lost in their thoughts. However, while The Gothic bathroom evokes gentleness, pleasure (woman's face) and a spiritual atmosphere (expressed by the Gothic setting and the play of light), the setting and the treatment of the character of The toilet are more direct and more stripped down.
Alain CORBIN [dir.], History of the body, vol. II “From the Revolution to the Great War”, Paris, Le Seuil, coll. "L’Univers historique", 2005. André FERMIGIER, Toulouse-Lautrec, Paris, Presses Pocket, coll. “Agora”, 1991. François PUPIL, “Painting troubadour and the Gothic Middle Ages” in Societies & Representations, n ° 20, Paris, 2005, available on www.cairn.info [http://www.cairn.info/revue- societes-et-representations-2005-2-page-85.htm] .Georges VIGARELLO, History of health practices. The healthy and the unhealthy since the Middle Ages, Paris, Le Seuil, coll. “Points Histoire”, 1999.
To cite this article
Alexandre SUMPF, "The toilet, a moment of feminine intimacy"