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'BATHING BOYS' IN JOHANN WALTER'S PAINTING ('Peldetaji zeni' Jana Valtera gleznieciba)

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To illustrate the interest of turn-of-the-20th century painters in the biological aspects of human existence, growing processes and the spring of life, Latvian art history literature usually offers two vivid examples from the collection of the State Museum of Art 'Jubilant Children' (190 I) by Janis Rozentals (1866-1916) and 'Bathing Boys' (c. 1900) by Johann Waiter (1869-1932), a Latvian-born artist of German origin who changed his last name to Walter-Kurau after the move to Germany in 1906 but is usually called Janis Valters by Latvians. In an earlier publication, I have already interpreted the first of these pictures as part of a bucolic line in Rozentals' creativity that brought him from an impressive painterly symbiosis of spring awakening in nature and human life to the velvety sensuousness of his 'Sun Maidens' (1912) featuring the transformation of a typically impressionist love of light into a sort of mystical sun-dreaming. The present paper in turn explores the artistic progress of Walter's life-long fascination with the interplay of light and water in his numerous versions of 'Bathing Boys', painted between c. 1900 and 1926 in Latvia and Germany. Beside the above-mentioned treasure of the State Museum of Art - one of the most beloved pictures by several generations of Latvians - this part of his heritage includes the masterly 'Boys near Water' (c. 1900) at the Tukums Museum, a number of recently discovered private possessions and several reproductions of supposedly lost works. The first appearance of young bathers in his imagery coincided with the very height of the subject's international popularity. Bathing children were eagerly painted by Liebermann and Landenberger in Germany, Kroyer in Denmark, Edelfelt in Finland, Sorolla in Spain and numerous other artists all around Europe. Walter joined this company by sending one of his turn-of-the-century boy bathing scenes to the 3rd Exhibition of the Berlin Secession (1901) and the 4th Exhibition of the 'World of Art' In St. Petersburg (1902).
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  • Kristiana Abele, Institute of Art History of the Latvian Academy of Art, Akademijas laukums 1-160, Riga LV-1050, Latvia
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