Morisot was a founding member of the Impressionists and contributed to all but one of the group shows between 1874 and 1886. As a consequence of the social conventions that female artists upheld, the subject matter of their paintings often differed from those of their male counterparts, who tended to depict Parisian nightlife and public entertainments. Such gender distinctions were reflected in early commentary on Morisot's art; some critics attributed her loose brushwork and pastel colors to her femininity, even though these very elements of her practice were emblematic of the Impressionist style. The critical tide turned, however, when Philippe Burty wrote in a review of the Fifth Impressionist Exhibition in 1880: "Morisot handles the palette and brush with a truly astonishing delicacy" (quoted in The New Painting: Impressionism 1874-1886, exh. cat., The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1986, p. 326). The following year, Gustave Geffroy proclaimed, "No one represents Impressionism with more refined talent or with more authority than Morisot" (quoted in ibid., p. 366). The freedom of Morisot's brushwork and the softness of her palette were thus recast as delicate and subtle articulations that defined an entire artistic movement, confirming the level of her talent.
The present work captures a classic, intimate moment of two women dressing after their bath. The pose of the women in an outdoor setting suggests a mythical and classicizing scene, exhibiting the artist's renewed interest in the work of Boucher and other Rococo masters. Pierre-Auguste Renoir's influence is also palpable--he had become deeply immersed in painting female bathers during the 1880s, as he moved away from documenting scenes of modern life. Renoir and Morisot had been close friends since 1885. In 1887, Renoir was commissioned by the artist and her husband, Eugène Manet, to paint their daughter's portrait. When Morisot died in 1895, her will named Renoir as one of her daughter's guardians, together with Stephane Mallarmé.
Bain was exhibited in the posthumous retrospective of Morisot's works that took place at Galerie Durand-Ruel in 1896, marking the first anniversary of the artist's death. The exhibition was a grand event in the Parisian art scene, with many of Morisot's Impressionist colleagues paying homage to one of the most talented of their group. Perhaps the greatest tribute of all, the exhibition was organized by her peers, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Renoir and Mallarmé.