Revive and Reinvent

Degas’ bathers were revolutionary in their stylistic and conceptual approach to the female form, following a long tradition of nudes in Western art history. Degas strips them of the recognizable characteristics of sensuality, which are even more glaring in their absence, because the women do not seek invite the viewers attention and are not surrounded by props that enhance their seductive qualities. Instead, Degas chooses to depict bathing as an ordinary activity, where the viewer is “looking through the keyhole.” Ironically, he was often accused of misogyny because he didn’t give women the sex appeal they were used to. Although his bathers exhibit a highly personal style and an innovative compositional sense, Degas took his inspiration from a wide variety of sources, including the realistic lines of Ingres, japanese woodblock prints, and the emerging art of photography.

Suzuki Kiitsu’s gilded folding screen comes from the Rinpa school tradition that emerged during Edo Japan, seeking to revive the traditional painting style of earlier times. Many Rinpa artists were also involved in the textile industry, so their work has a highly decorative quality that could be applied to an emerging mass market. The Rinpa school was never closely united and continued to extend to the 19th century, when Kiitsu developed an even more stylized approach.