Baigneuse Surprise (Bather Surprised)
Inscribed Susse Fres Edrs Paris
Inset with Susse Fres Editeurs/Paris foundry pastille
Bronze with a rich dark brown patina
Height: 21 5/8" (55cm)
Conceived circa 1889 and cast after 1902
Dalou sculptured female nudes, and most particularly bathers, throughout his career. The works were never shown at the Royal Academy whilst the sculptor was in England, or indeed at the French Salon after his return to Paris in 1879, which makes accurate dating of some of the models difficult.
Nevertheless, the works remain some of Dalou’s most accomplished. The artist developed the idealised 18th century prototypes of Étienne Maurice Falconet and Christophe-Gabriel Allegrain by creating naturalistic models of bathers engaged in everyday activities devoid of allegory; undressing before bathing, drying after bathing, bending, reaching, removing their stockings or covering themselves after being taken by surprise. Such realism predates the work of Edgar Degas, who’s own sculpture, particularly Woman Seated in an Armchair Wiping Her Left Armpit and a Woman Seated in an Armchair Wiping Her Neck owe much to the work of Dalou.
Dalou was obsessed by the movement of the body and the undulations of flesh and it is in his female nudes that the delicacy of his clay modelling is most exquisitely demonstrated. Even when cast in bronze the figures appear soft and alive, caught as if in a sculptural photograph during a moment of everyday life.
Although Dalou’s bathers were never shown publicly, they were well known amongst his supporters and began to attract the attention of private English patrons during the 1870s. Indeed, the works chimed perfectly with a contemporary audience who had been delighted by Dalou’s un-idealised domestic studies of women embroiling, nursing young children or reading.
After his return to France Dalou continued to model female nudes, occasionally as maquettes or studies for larger monuments, but more typically as private autonomous works which he would rarely allow to leave his studio.