La Toilette, the Invention of Privacy at Musée Marmottan Monet

La Toilette, the Invention of Privacy at Musée Marmottan Monet

The effortlessly chic look of French women – and men, for that matter – didn’t develop overnight. It took centuries, as is amply demonstrated by this thematic exhibition of priceless masterpieces, which combines art history and fascinating social study.

At the end of the Middle Ages, public baths fell out of favour. Water was suddenly seen as a ‘suspicious’ vehicle for diseases. Grooming rituals migrated to the private areas of the home. Although maids or family members were often still present in the same room, the voyage towards privacy when attending to ‘la toilette’ had irreversibly begun.

Through the eyes of artists’ work collected herein, we witness the transformation of rituals over time, from the strictly eau-free guidelines of the boudoir – involving a flurry of combs, unguents, jewels and perfumes – to the Enlightenment, when water returned but intimate scenes were no longer ‘proper’. Then came the rebirth of public bathing, resulting in the Impressionist-era baigneuses, and the revolution of indoor plumbing in the late 19th century.

Just one glance at the silk in Hector Viger’s painting, La Toilette Avant le Sacre (1865), and you’ll know why this exhibition is a triumph. The thoughtful choice of works leads us by the hand through a story which unfolded behind closed doors, from the constraints of the corset to the shaping of the identity of the modern woman (and man).

La Toilette, the Invention of Privacy, Until July 5 at Musée Marmottan Monet. 2 rue Louis Boilly, Paris 16th, Métro: La Muette. Open daily 10am-6pm. Thursdays until 8pm. Closed Mondays. Entry is €10. Tel: +33 1 44 96 50 33

From France Today magazine

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Sylvia Edwards Davis is a writer and correspondent based in France with a focus on business and culture. A member of the France Media editorial team, Sylvia scans the cultural landscape to bring you the most relevant highlights on current events, art exhibitions, museums and festivals.

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