Bare Beach Babies Pt. 1: The Victorian Era

(Last Updated On July 9, 2022)

Before swimming came into popularity as a pastime there was sea bathing, a practice that traces back to the 1600s but which really took off during the Victorian age, when the advent of railroads allowed fast and easy passage to the seaside in many European countries and the American coasts.  While adults tended to wear clothes for such bathing, at least in mixed company, children were given a bit more leeway with regard to their bathing costume.  It was not uncommon for young children to bathe sans habillement—that is, without clothing.  While occasional prudish laws and mores cropped up before then—e.g.Wikipedia states the following: “For example, in the 16th century, a German court document in the Vechta prohibited the naked (meaning everything exposed) public swimming of children.”—it wasn’t until the 20th century that the prevailing tastes of the West deemed it necessary for children to don clothing while at public beaches. Thus, several artists of the era captured children frolicking nude at the seaside, one of the few places where this was still allowed in public. Perhaps these painters were drawn to these scenes because they recalled something of the Classical Age that the Victorians and 19th century Europeans were so fascinated with. A few painters, most notably Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, dedicated nearly their whole career to these beach idylls.


Théophile Auguste Vauchelet – l’Eau (Early 1800s)


Théophile Auguste Vauchelet – Le Printemps (Early 1800s)


Anselm Feuerbach – Children on the Beach

Bouguereau’s little bathers are just beginning to shed their clothes:


William-Adolphe Bouguereau – Les jeunes baigneuses (1879)


Benito Rebolledo Correa – Children Playing at the Beach


Benito Rebolledo Correa – Girl on the Beach


Benito Rebolledo Correa – La Brisa


Benito Rebolledo Correa – Nina frente al mar


Charles Chaplin – Two Girls Bathing (1866)


Frederick Arthur Bridgman – The Bathing Beauties (1872)


Emanuel Phillips Fox – The Bathing Hour


Hans Heyerdahl – The Rock


Maurice Denis – Games in the Sand

Paul Emile Chabas – Mother and Child Bathing

Paul Émile Chabas – Mother and Child Bathing

Paul Émile Chabas – Premier bain (1907) (1)

Paul Émile Chabas – Premier bain (1907) (2)


Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida – Antes del Bano (1909)


Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida – Las dos hermanas (1909)


Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida – The Bath, Jávea (1905)


Paul Gustave Fischer – A Day at the Beach (1900)

Wikipedia: Anselm Feuerbach

Wikipedia: William-Adolphe Bouguereau

William-Adolphe Bouguereau: The Complete Works

Wikipedia: Charles Chaplin (artist)

Wikipedia: Frederick Arthur Bridgman

Frederick Arthur Bridgman: The Complete Works

Wikipedia: E. Phillips Fox

Wikipedia: Maurice Denis

Wikipedia: Paul Émile Chabas

Wikipedia: Joaquín Sorolla

Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida: The Complete Works

Wikipedia: Paul Gustave Fischer

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