Dalou can be ranked as one of the greatest French sculptors of the 19th century, with a range of subject matter that stretched from the most intimate domestic scenes to the grandest public monuments. The son of a Parisian glove-maker, his potential talent as a sculptor was first spotted by Carpeaux, who persuaded his parents to allow him to study sculpture. Dalou attended the Petite école (1852-4) where he started his technical apprenticeship, and the École des Beaux-Arts (1854-7), where he reacted against the academic strictures and constraints, while Carpeaux remained perhaps his most important formative influence and inspiration. He never managed to win the prestigious Prix de Rome earning his living during the 1860s as a decorative artist, while exhibiting several modest works at the Salons. His first critical success came with a third class medal at the Salon of 1870 for the embroiderer, a contemporary domestic subject that was not unusual in itself but for the fact that it was life-size. With this work Dalou established a genre and style that was to dominate his work for the next decade.
Dalou's left-wing and republican sympathies caused him to be caught up in the administration of the Paris Commune after the French surrender to the Prussians in 1870/71. After the fall of the Commune he was forced into exile, being welcomed in England where he worked successfully from mid-1871 until the amnesty of 1879. During this period he became an established figure in the English art scene, his reputation based on portraits and intimate subjects of domestic life. He exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy, became a professor of sculpture at the South Kensington School of Art, where his lectures were carried out in French, and was commissioned by Queen Victoria for a monument to her dead grandchildren. But, by the late 70s, he was tiring of his intimate subjects and aspired instead to the creation of public monuments that carried some social and moral significance.
Before his return to Paris in 1879, he had already begun to achieve his ambition with the receipt of a commission from the City of Paris for a colossal monument entitled the Triumph of the Republic (1879-99, Paris, Place de la Nation), perhaps the most ambitious work of his career. He did not exhibit at the Salon again until 1883, but his two large plaster reliefs shown in that year earned him the gold medal and great critical acclaim. The rest of his career was occupied with the production of individually conceived monuments of which the most ambitious would have been the Monument to Workers. At the time of his death however, all that he had achieved of this grandiose scheme were dozens of remarkably direct and spontaneous preparatory clay sketches of individual workers.
Dalou worked and reworked single figures of the female nude throughout his career, making it difficult to attribute specific dates. This lot would appear to belong to a group of bathers executed while Dalou was working in England between 1871 and 1879. In this instance the monumentality of the form, with its compact pose and the arms drawn tightly around the body, might have been reworked for the figure entitled Truth Denied, Circa 1895, made as a response to the arrest of Alfred Dreyfus. Such figures were executed in terracotta or plaster but Dalou discouraged the idea of producing editions in bronze. It was only after his death, between 1902 and 1905, that his executors commissioned the firm of A.A. Hébrard in Paris to make casts from the many terracottas and bronzes that were found in his studio. Models that were particularly popular were issued in several series marked with a letter, for the series, and a number representing its place in the series, which was usually 1-10; thus the present model is marked in the casting 'B5'.