Renoir had occasionally painted nude bathers in the early years of his career, but once he returned from his tour of Italy in 1881, this theme would become a constant preoccupation in his oeuvre over the remaining three decades of his life. In search of an idealized classicizing form, he was particularly struck by Raphael's frescoes in Rome and the Pompeian frescoes at the Museo Nazionale in Naples. Renoir made clear his own view of classicism: "The simplest themes are the eternal ones. A nude woman is Venus or Nini [Lopez, one of Renoir's favorite models], whether she is emerging from the waves of the sea or rising from her bed. Our imagination can conceive of nothing better" (quoted in Renoir, exh. cat., Kunsthalle, Tübingen, 1996, p. 265). Not only was Renoir's interest in painting nudes inspired by the French and Italian masters such as Raphael and Ingres but he was also eager to attract commercial success similar to Bougereau and Gérôme, the leading academic painters of the day, whose smoothly painted nudes were the mainstay of the Salon.
In the present work, the form of the model is suggested by soft, diffused layers of fleshy colors, with rosy tints to her cheeks and contours, as Renoir sought to "make the flesh on my canvas live and quiver." The nude woman's body is viewed in profile, with her arms raised as she dries off after bathing, creating a sinuous verticality that fills the canvas. She glances seductively, yet with an unabashed innocence, over her shoulder to face the viewer straight ahead.
Renoir's woman comes from a primitive dreamland; she is an artless, wild creature, blooming in perfumed scrub... She is luxuriant, firm, healthy and naive woman with a powerful body...she is a gentle being, like the women of Tahiti, born in a tropical climate where vice is known as shame, and where entire ingenuousness is a guarantee against all indecency. One cannot but be astonished at this mixture of 'Japonism,' savagism and eighteenth century taste (in C. Mauclair, Impressionists, London, 1903, pp. 16-18).