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A Lady in Her Bath

François Clouetc. 1571

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

François Clouet, the son of a Netherlandish artist, became court painter to the French kings Francis I, Henry II and Charles IX. In this Renaissance portrait Clouet has depicted a female nude, whose identity is unknown, at her bath. The bather is seated in her tub, which is lined with a white cloth and hung on both sides with regal crimson curtains to ward off the cold. Her left hand draws back the bath sheet revealing the artist's name inscribed below, while her right hand rests on a covered board that displays a sumptuously rendered still life. Slightly behind the bather a young boy reaches for some grapes as a smiling wet nurse suckles a baby. In the background, a maid is seen holding a metal pitcher of bath water as more water is heated in the fireplace. The allusion is to a happy, healthy home.

The masklike symmetry of the bather's face makes exact identification difficult; scholars have suggested that her aristocratic features indicate that she is one of several royal mistresses, most notable among them Diane de Poitiers, the mistress of Henry II. It is possible that the nude, a Venus type, represents ideal beauty rather than a specific individual. The contrast of the smoothly rendered nude figure to the intricate surface details of the fruit, draperies, and jewelry, presents a union of Flemish and Italian motifs that characterized French courtly art of the sixteenth century.

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Details

  • Title: A Lady in Her Bath
  • Date Created: c. 1571
  • Physical Dimensions: w812 x h923 cm (overall)
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Samuel H. Kress Collection
  • External Link: National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
  • Medium: oil on oak
  • artist: François Clouet
  • Theme: portrait, female
  • School: French
  • Provenance: Sir Richard Frederick, 6th bt. [1780 1873], Burwood Park, Walton on Thames, Surry; (his estate sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 7 February 1874, no. 83, as Portrait of Diane de Poictiers[sic] by Fr. Janetii); purchased by Thibeaudeau,[1] presumably acting as agent for Sir John Charles Robinson [1824 1913], London; purchased 1874 by Sir Francis Cook, 1st bt. [1817 1901], Doughty House, Richmond, Surrey;[2] by inheritance to his son, Sir Frederick Lucas Cook, 2nd bt. [1844 1920], Doughty House; by inheritance to his son, Herbert Frederick Cook, 3rd bt. [1868 1939], Doughty House; by inheritance to his son, Sir Francis Ferdinand Maurice Cook, 4th bt. [1907 1978], Doughty House, and Cothay Manor, Somerset; sold July 1954 to (Margaret Drey, London);[3] (Rosenberg and Stiebel, New York);[4] purchased May 1955 by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York;[5] gift 1961 to NGA. [1] Annotation accompanying the copy of the catalogue in the archives of Christie, Manson & Woods, London. [2] Maurice Brockwell, Catalogue of the Pictures at Doughty House, Richmond, and Elsewhere in the Collection of Sir Frederick Cook, Bt., 3 vols., London, 1913 1915: 3:no. 426, states that the painting was purchased from J. Charles Robinson in 1874 for 350 pounds. An annotation, probably by Brockwell, in a copy of the 1915 Cook collection catalogue belonging to Brenda, Lady Cook (St. Brelade, Jersey, England), reads: "Bought from or per JCR 11/2/1874." Lady Cook kindly showed this annotation to Elon Danziger, assistant in the department of northern Renaissance painting, in 2001. Brockwell 1932, vi, observes that Robinson, who had been Surveyor of the Pictures for Queen Victoria, often advised Cook on purchases. In this instance he may have acted as agent. [3] Correspondence from the Cook Collection Archive, in care of John Somerville, England, copies in NGA curatorial file. [4] Saemy Rosenberg, letter to William Suida, 11 May 1955, in NGA curatorial files. [5] The record of the agreement to purchase the painting is in the Kress Foundation files, dated 9 May 1955 (copy in NGA curatorial files).

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