The present work, Baigneurs (Venturi no. 1157), a rare watercolour over lithographic base, is one of only a few known hand-coloured versions of the black lithograph based on one of Paul Cézanne’s most important paintings, Baigneurs au repos, in the collection of The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. Apart from commemorating one of Cézanne’s most famous paintings, the present work also underlines Cézanne’s collaboration with his dealer, Ambroise Vollard, as well as Vollard’s faith in Cézanne and in the disseminating power of colour lithographs.
Vollard had become interested in publishing artists’ prints shortly after having opened his gallery in the rue Lafitte in 1894 and brought out his first publication of prints in 1896 under the title Les Peintres-Graveurs. Besides the present work, Cézanne only ever made two other lithographs: Portrait de Cézanne and a second work by the same title as the present work, Baigneurs (Venturi no. 1156).
Of the three lithographs that Cézanne executed, only one - the smaller version of Baigneurs - was ever published. Douglas Druick in 'Cézanne’s Lithographs' (pp. 119-137, in W. Rubin, ed., Cézanne, The Late Work, exh. cat., London, 1978) establishes the present Baigneurs as the earliest lithograph of the three, executed by Cézanne between his arrival in Paris in the Autumn of 1896 and his departure in April 1897.
During the summer of 1896, in view of the publication of his second compilation of prints, Vollard had begun to encourage his artists to produce colour lithographs. Since the black impression of Cézanne’s smaller Baigneurs had already been very well received by the public, Cézanne decided, almost certainly at Vollard’s request, to produce the larger print in colour. The present hand-coloured work would therefore have been executed in response to this challenge, as Cézanne experimented in watercolour, testing the colour effects he wished to achieve in the final colour lithograph; this was to be printed by Auguste Clot, the highly experienced and talented lithographer whom Vollard had commissioned to carry out this work. The few hand-coloured versions of the black lithograph that exist, including the present work, were probably executed expressly for Clot, serving as guidelines in the complex process of the preparation and printing of the colour keystones.
The present work, Baigneurs, an impression hand painted by Cézanne, formed the basis for the execution of the colour lithographs. The dissemination of these colour lithographs helped to establish Cézanne’s reputation, documenting his collaboration with Ambroise Vollard, one of the most important patrons and dealers of the twentieth century, and constituting a rare testimony to Cézanne’s most significant involvement with printmaking.