The Three Bathers and Matisse’s Hommage to Cezanne

Pierre Matisse (1869 – 1954) owned a Cezanne (1839-1906) canvas of Three Bathers for almost 40 years. 

He bought it at a time when he had little money in 1899 for 1200 francs which he paid off in installments. 

In 1936, Matisse donated this painting to the Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris asking that it be hung with care in a prominent place.  This is where it still is.

There is an earlier version of the canvas which Pierre Matisse bought in the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia.  Below.


Three Bathers, 1879-82 by Paul Cezanne
Three Bathers, 1876-77, oil on canvas.  Paul Cezanne, The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia

This is what Matisse said about the canvas which he owned.

In the 37 years I have owned this canvas, I have come to know it quite well, though not entirely, I hope.  It has sustained me morally in the critical moments of my venture as an artist.  I have drawn from it my faith and perseverance.…It has grown increasingly greater ever since I have owned it.  


An astonishing statement of the transmission of Cezanne’s aesthetic evolution and moral energy. 

As to what it means.

It appears, from Matisse’s subsequent innovations, to mean that Matisse recognized that Cezanne had transcended an artistic constraint which had bound painting until Cezanne in that he had begun the liberation of  painting from the object painted.  He did this without entering into pure abstraction. This  movement was, of course, noted by many of his younger colleagues.

More bathers – from the 200 or so paintings of bathers which Cezanne completed – in chronological order so that Cezanne’s liberation of painting from the object painted can be observed.    



 Group of Bathers and detail, c. 1885, oil on canvas. Paul Cézanne.  Philadelphia Art Muse


These are at the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia which holds a total of 69 paintings by Cezanne. The Barnes forbids photography and these are taken from its website.


Bather at the Seashore (Baigneuse au bord de la mer)

Bather at the Seashore (Baigneuse au bord de la mer), c. 1875. Oil on canvas.  Paul Cézanne.  The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia


Bathers at Rest (Baigneurs au repos)

Bathers at Rest (Baigneurs au repos), 1876–1877. Oil on canvas. Paul Cézanne.  The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia


Four Bathers (Quatre baigneuses)

Four Bathers (Quatre baigneuses), 1876–1877. Oil on canvas.  Paul Cézanne.  Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia



Five Bathers (Cinq baigneuses) Five Bathers (Cinq baigneuses), 1877–1878. Oil on canvas.  Paul Cézanne.  Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia



Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907, oil on canvas.  Pablo Picasso, 1881-1973.  MOMA, NY

Les Cinque Baigneuses is thought to be one of the primary sources for Les Demoiselles d’Avingnon.




Dance (I), 1909, oil on canvas.  Henri Matisse, 1869-1954, French.  MOMA, New York

Group of Bathers (Groupe de baigneurs)

 Group of Bathers (Groupe de baigneurs), 1892–1894. Oil on canvas. Paul Cézanne.  Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia


The Large Bathers (Les Grandes baigneuses)

 The Large Bathers (Les Grandes baigneuses), 1895–1906. Oil on canvas. Paul Cézanne.  Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia



Here is The Large Bathers at the Philadelphia Art. 

Chronologically, it is the latest of paintings of bathers by Cezanne in Philadelphia:






The Large Bathers and detail,  1900-1906, oil on canvas. Paul Cézanne,  Philadelphia Art Museum





Bathers by a River, 1909-1917, oil on canvas.  Henri Matisse, 1869-1954, French. Chicago Art Institute. Image from the web.

The original painting was rejected by the man who had commissioned it.  Matisse then worked on this for ten years and it represented an important evolution of his style.



The place of Cezanne in the evolution of the painting tradition seems to continue controversial partially because the artist continuously acknowledged his debt and his attachment to the French classical tradition; and partially also because of the disruption of the very articulate and clever Marcel Duchamp.


But are we seriously going to sit here and gainsay Matisse whose oeuvre ended, when he was an old man, in luminous denatured cut-outs:  recognizable shapes, not exactly disembodied but certainly floating free of any natural context?





Oceania and detail, 1946, screenprint on linen.  

Pierre Matisse,  1869-1954, during a time of increasing ill-health and forty years after the death of Paul Cézanne .  National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC



Large Decoration with Masks, 1953, gouache on paper, cut and pasted on white paper, mounted on canvas.

  Pierre Matisse,  1869-1954, one year before his death, during a time of increasing ill-health and almost fifty years after the death of Paul Cézanne.  National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

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