The soothing entanglement of body and cloth; the relaxed, pensive drying of her legs. There is no rush and so she sits. Lost in thought, she does not notice her nakedness nor her voyeur behind. The marble about her references luxury and nods to sculpture, her face and body in the classical style. Do you notice how she did not wash her hair? Why can’t we see her face? Who is the sitter?
This excellent Sorolla, far from the style he is known for, is a masturbatory classical/realist masterclass. The virtuosity is especially present in the details: a reflection, pink overtones on the marble beneath her bottom, and the edge of a gray puddle spreading behind her. The towl/sheet is unrealistically long and thin like a toga, but by the way she sits it’s clear she is not dressing herself. But nor is she drying. Such details read as luxurious impracticalities.
The long thin draping is probably being used to show a common motif of fine art painting — the sexy folds. Only the best painters can pull of good folds (Van Eyck). For instance, in Vermeers you always see that the area is packed with diaphanous clothes, rugs, cloaks, finery and so forth. This is more an attestation to talent than a smart eye for aesthetic in my opinion; although it supposedly functions as both.
There is an air of absolute luxury here, not just in the cloth, or in the marble, but also in her classical proportions, her silhouette, and in the feeling of slowed time. How often after you shower can you sit for long moments sighing and dreaming in a swim of marble as you don’t dry your perfect legs? Sorolla’s bather is not just beautiful, she’s also rich — inarguably a sign of moral virtue if you ask me.
However, the painting, while luxurious, masturbatory, and classical, is also sparse. This is unlike most classical paintings that come to mind save for the dark (chiaroscuro) paintings of Caravaggio and his emulous successors, the Caravaggisti. In classical paintings, the subjects tend to fill out the painting, while our bather is almost eclipsed by grand and hyper-detailed marble.
But, Sorolla isn’t just taking from a classical style. The manner of the model and her expression is more mundane, less elevated, less exalted. This can even be seen in the glaring, crooked cracks between the marble tiles as well as the obscuring of the face. Unlike the depictions of Venus, Danae, Jesus, Mary, and other figures of myth and legend, our bather is anonymous, much like the peasants and seamen of Sorolla’s other paintings. This is a realist portrait.
One could also compare the subject to a sculpture on a plinth. I don’t think that Sorolla, unlike Van Eyck, has any pretentions toward perfecting modeling sans marble; but the similarity in color to classical statues, the model’s classical body and face, and the presence of modeling material all bring sculpture to mind.
What is Sorolla trying to say by using elements of a classical style and sculpture along with elements of social realism? Is he a dirty Red communist like the lot of artists?
The jarring aesthetic mishmash of classical and realism is masked by a solemn, dreamy scene. One is taken by the restful imagery, seduced by the beauty and mastery of the multifarious coloration of skin, the standstill of time. To look on this painting is to realize also that you yourself are contemplating the selfsame body as our anonymous bather. Like so many religious paintings of saints and penitents, the painting is meant to be a meditation object. In the end, however, her ideality is grounded by anti-classical details included by Sorolla, and a sense of seclusion and loneliness almost mocking the humble saints exalted in their caves. There is no god in this painting. And so on what do we meditate? On wealth? On time?
Is this communist? Hell yeah. Sorolla is woke as an owl. Makes me wet.