Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Fall 2016

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors


Art History

First Advisor

Marilyn Brown

Second Advisor

Robert Nauman

Third Advisor

Priscilla Craven


This thesis examines how the motifs used in bathing genre paintings from Greek and Roman myths to eighteenth-century eroticism are evident in the bathing series of Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt. The close professional relationship of Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt is evident in the shared themes and techniques in their work and in personal accounts from letters by each other and their contemporaries. Both Degas and Cassatt desired to move away from historical genre painting, and instead to portray the changing emotions and social constraints of modern life. However, the extensive tradition from the Aphrodite of Knidos to Ingres’ Valpinçon Bather of the erotic female nude impacted both their depictions and critics and scholars’ interpretations. I examine the prevailing iconography of the female nude through an analysis of the classical representations of the female nude, Japanese prints of bathers, and Degas and Cassatt’s respective depictions. I argue that a new way of examining modern understandings of privacy and cleanliness may have been at the root of Degas and Cassatt’s representations of bathers, but their classical training throughout Europe and the influx of Japanese prints of bathhouses influenced these representations.