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Rachel Cohen


The Large Bathers II

The Large Bathers II
After I had been looking at the Large Bathers for a while, I noticed the swimmer.  Clearly a figure: head, hair, flesh tones, mostly submerged, but swimming through the water.  I saw that the painter had been careful to frame this figure, not only by the water's blue, but in the way that it is seen through the arms of the seated figures of the painting's center.  One detailed hand is angled out right over the swimmer, almost pointing to it.  Why was this degree of emphasis used?  From the swimmer the eye goes back to the man and the white beast of burden standing on the far shore and from these two to the steeple and roof of the church.  Leisure, labor, Sunday.  Also, a beautiful backward-directed, slight curve for the eye to trace.  If you were seeing it with someone else you'd have the urge to describe the curve with your hand, and your hand would make a gesture quite like the one the figure in the painting is making, the one that draws the eye to the swimmer.

But I didn't bring my eye forward from the swimmer until weeks later when I went back to look at the picture.  Then I saw that the swimmer is a kind of fulcrum that joins the lines of the painting.  On this second visit, it seemed the whole painting was about whatever it is, that white soft consideration, that the three crouching women hold between them in the foreground.  A cloth?  A sacrament?  Are they folding it, is it to be held among them, does it go into the sand as if buried or are they raising it up?