Ingres and women in the baths: exotic hygiene

Ingres and women in the baths: exotic hygiene

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  • La Petite Baigneuse - Interior of a harem.

    INGRES Jean-Auguste Dominique (1780 - 1867)

  • The Turkish Bath.

    INGRES Jean-Auguste Dominique (1780 - 1867)

To close

Title: La Petite Baigneuse - Interior of a harem.

Author : INGRES Jean-Auguste Dominique (1780 - 1867)

Creation date : 1828

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 35 - Width 27

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas.

Storage place: Louvre Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. G. Ojeda

Picture reference: 01-021974 / RF1728

La Petite Baigneuse - Interior of a harem.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. Ojeda

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot / C. Jean

Publication date: March 2011

Historical context

Of The Bather of Valpinçon at Turkish bath

Illustrious representative of French neoclassical painting, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780-1867) very early on explored the theme of the woman in the baths. Through his aesthetic research on female nudity, he sets himself apart from the academic model, preferring an oriental, and more precisely Ottoman, reference to the antique motif.

With The Bather of Valpinçon (or Large Bather), in 1808 he painted the portrait of a woman in a turban, presented nude and from behind, in a hammam and harem atmosphere. The artist then declines this study, which can be found almost identically in the two paintings studied here, La Petite Baigneuse - Interior of a harem, which dates from 1828, and Turkish bath, produced more than thirty years later, in 1862.

Evoking the practice of the bath and the harem, these works are fully in line with the orientalist movement of the XIXe century. Indirectly, they also allow an original approach to the question of the relationship to the body, nudity, health and hygiene during this period.

Image Analysis

Women at baths

The composition of La Petite Baigneuse - Interior of a harem is organized into three levels of depth. In the foreground on the right, a naked woman seen from behind, wearing a scarf, is sitting on a sort of bed with white sheets. At his feet, we can see his clothes and his slippers scattered. In the background appears a rectangular marble basin, where a young girl tastes the delights of water. In the background, a third woman is covered with a transparent veil. Two other women comb her hair, watched by a black woman dressed in Turkish clothes. The soft light, the clean line, the play of colors and curves, suggest intimacy, the pleasure of bathing, and bring a discreetly erotic character to the scene.

Elements found in Turkish bath, even if the scene is less intimate since, this time, the number of women present is much greater. As in the previous painting, the composition is organized around the study of the bare back (the character this time plays the lute) in the foreground, with the pelvis in the second. In the background, the space seems to be carpeted with naked, white bodies (whose pallor is heightened by the presence of two black women), in a rather suggestive lascivious and erotic atmosphere. The jewels, the headdresses and the tea service (in the foreground) indicate the nationality of the bath.


Hygiene or the pleasure of the body

During the XIXe century, hygiene practices such as bathing have developed. While they obviously concern primarily a minority from the wealthiest segments of the population, awareness of their importance for public health is slowly gaining ground.

The bath remains largely a private space, an activity we indulge in at home. But the thermal baths are also enjoying growing success with a certain social elite, especially during the reign of Napoleon III, himself a great fan of cures. Through works like La Petite Baigneuse - Interior of a harem and Turkish bath, Orientalism also popularizes an imaginary of the Turkish bath and the hammam, without these really existing in France. Synonymous with a certain hygiene of life, these real or dreamed public baths, as well as the way in which they are represented, also help to shape a different approach to the body, nudity and cleanliness.

So when Lunch on the Grass (first titled The bath, since it also contains a scene of this type) by Manet scandalizes, Turkish bath carried out the same year is better accepted. If one can think that the exoticism and the exclusive femininity of the second are less provocative than the geographical realism and the diversity of the first, one can also suggest that the naked bodies (ultimately very Western) of Ingres, while having a certain erotic dimension, are here associated with a healthy and clean practice. Indeed, in La Petite Baigneuse - Interior of a harem and Turkish bath, the bath space is like sanitized (it is immaculate, and the water totally pure). Artificial, it does not link the body to nature (and thereby to a certain ill-defined and unlimited animal and drive energy), but locks it up in a closed and protected place. A space where the precise and elaborate care lavished on it relieves nudity and the pleasure of bathing.

Hygiene therefore appears above all as a health practice and an opportunity for well-being, a pleasant and noble body care that changes the Puritan perception of nudity.

  • hygiene
  • naked
  • Orientalism
  • Ingres (Jean-Auguste-Dominique)
  • women
  • antiquity
  • East
  • Turkey
  • health
  • Napoleon III
  • Manet (Edouard)


Alain CORBIN (dir.), History of the body, vol. II “From the Revolution to the Great War”, Paris, Le Seuil, coll. "L’Univers historique", 2005.Georges VIGARELLO, History of health practices. The healthy and the unhealthy since the Middle Ages, Paris, Le Seuil, coll. “Points Histoire”, 1999.Georges VIGNE, Ingres, Paris, Citadelles & Mazenod, coll. "The Lighthouses", 1995.

To cite this article

Alexandre SUMPF, "Ingres and women in the baths: exotic hygiene"



  1. Ridge

    Normul, I have been looking for it for a long time! thanks to all...

  2. Napayshni

    I think this is the wrong way.

  3. Burly

    I'm sorry, but I think you are making a mistake. I can defend my position.

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