So was the theorist Maurice Denis 1870-1943 - since the turn of the century an extremely influential exponent of a classical aesthetic. The subject apparently had its source in his memories of bathing with his male friends as a youth in Aix, but it became an obsessive preoccupation towards the end of his life, culminating in the three monumental Large Bathers 1894-1906: The picture as a whole realises the synthesis of nature and art which was his goal. Cezanne had exhibited only very rarely since 1877, when he showed sixteen canvases at the third Impressionist exhibition, but in 1895 he at last had a major one-man show in the gallery of Ambroise Vollard in Paris. This was not a critical or popular success, but painters of the avant-garde and his old colleagues such as Pissarro hailed him as a great master. He came from a well-to-do bourgeois family and was given a thorough liberal education.
These three paintings constitute Cezanne's personal interpretation of the long established tradition of depicting female nudes in the landscape, popularized by artists such as Giorgione Sleeping Venus1508Titian Venus of Urbino1538Correggio Jupiter and Io1533Poussin and. In the Large Bathers at the National Gallery in London, for example, the rear leg of the girl on the left plants the line of the tree trunk firmly on the ground, her head merges into the bark, and presse ochres, blues, pinks, greens and white of the composition are closely derived from the earth, sky, sunlight, leaves and opalescent clouds. He was honoured with a special retrospective at the Salon d'Automne in 1904, and then again after his death with a huge memorial show in 1907. This whole sequence of Bather paintings had an enormous influence on younger vanguard artists - in particular, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque - for whom Cezanne was the modern incarnation of the Great Tradition. His landscapes of Aix from the mid-1880s, for instance, were composed in the manner of Nicolas Poussin 1594-1665and his still life painting revealed his profound admiration for the works of the 18th century master Jean Chardin 1699-1779. Cezanne was possibly the single most important modern source for the Classical Revival in modern art - ironically so, given the exceedingly hostile reaction of most of his immediate contemporaries, who regarded his work as crude, bungling and barbaric.
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