À propos de l’eau
On Water, Cleanliness, and Beautiful Ladies

Permanent installation in the Cold Bath Pavilion at Pavlovsk Park
(Charles Cameron, architect, 1799)

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[rus]Ladies and Gentlemen:

You have stopped by the Cold Bath Pavilion and caught beautiful women of bygone times at their toilet unawares. By the way, it is mostly women we find going through their ablutions in portrayals of baths in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Why was that? Did gentlemen bathe less often? Or were artists merely less captivated by the sight? In any case, our bath is definitely a feminine realm. I hope our intrusion has not caused the lovely lasses to blush.

Unfortunately, we do not possess any of the original items and furnishings from this bath, nor are there any extant images of what it looked like inside. Therefore, period archival matter has assisted us in traveling back to the toilet room and bath as they must have looked at the time. All the images of the women, furniture, mirrors, and accessories were copied from authentic prints in the collections of the Pavlovsk Palace, the Hermitage, and the Louvre. All the sources are indicated in a special catalogue framed on the wall of the toilet room. The other frames contain mirrors, essential elements in a room like this. One mirror tells the story of the bath and how its original guests regarded water and cleanliness.

The female figures in the toilet room — half-dressed, undressing, and dressing — are chastely covered with a screen. The room contains two dressing tables (from different periods and, hence, a man’s table and a woman’s table), a wardrobe (also inset with a mirror, of course), a chest of drawers, chandeliers, soft chairs, and toilet room accessories, including boxes of ribbons, jars and bottles of beauty potions, and so on. Viewers might find it intriguing to glance inside the drawers of one of the dressing tables. A leitmotif of toilet rooms, as depicted in the prints, is a dog or cat frolicking with ribbons. Sometimes, a gallant gentleman was allowed to be present during a lady’s toilet as a special favor.

The bath is a more intimate place, a “forbidden” space, separated from the toilet room by curtains. From behind the curtains we hear the noise and splash of water, muffled voices, snatches of phrases (mostly in French), laughter, hands slapping naked bodies, and squealing when cold water pours over the bodies. This is a realm of beautiful naked bodies. We are surrounded by female bathers, immersing themselves in the water, clambering out of the water, relaxing on a bench in the pool, and graciously attended by their maidservants.

The basin of “water” in the middle of the bath is the installation’s centerpiece. We should remember that educated people of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries constantly imagined the ideal of antiquity, against which they measured themselves. Hence, most similes in the period’s poetry were allusions to antiquity, and artists were schooled by copying specimens of ancient art. There can be no doubt, therefore, that a beautiful woman of the period, imitating the ancient ideals, would imagine herself a river nymph when plunging into the water, while she would possibly recall Aphrodite, born of the foam of the sea, when she climbed out of the bath.

It matters that the water in the bath was really from the Slavyanka River, which then flows into another river, a river that in turn flows into the sea. Ultimately, that is, it was part of the World Ocean. This was the grounds for our enlivening the surface of the “water” in our bath with animated images of the gods and goddesses of the ocean, strange sea creatures like the Tritones and hippocampi, fantastic fish and dolphins. These images were also borrowed, of course, from ancient paintings and mosaics.

The installation was produced by:
Alexander Reichstein, artist
Olga Lameko, curator
Svetlana Khapayeva (Maxima LLC), general contractor
Tatyana Moshkova, animator
Georgy Baranov, sound engineer
Nikita Lyubimov, printer