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Dipping Into The Best Spa Moments in Art History
Whether you’re checking into a five-star spa or sobbing in your childhood bathtub, you deserve som...
Entertainment 05 Dec 2018

December’s coming up, and for many of us, that means trekking home for the holidays, back to the sleepy, nameless small towns from which we hail—although we might spend the rest of the year actively denying it. That is, unless you’re one of those rare species, the true city kid, in which case you probably had a better-curated MySpace than what most professional interior designers’ Instagrams, and I’m probably terrified of you.
Regardless of where you’re headed (or if you’re staying put) if December were a party, the gift bag would contain a constant, low-grade but pounding tension headache, eternally cold extremities, compulsive twice-a-day Amazon and eBay prowling for last-minute gifts, at least two short but intense champagne-fueled crying sessions in bougie restaurant bathrooms, and of course, you can’t forget the half-finished graduate school application, started (and closed forever) between 2am and 5:30am.
The point being, we’re all in dire need of a little relaxation. Nothing cures family-induced rage like a freakishly-strong-for-her-petite-size lady paid to pound your naked body for 60 minutes until you feel like a tenderized chicken. Whether you’re checking into a five-star spa or sobbing in your childhood bathtub while your rubber duckies judge you silently, you deserve some zen this holiday season.
And as always, art history’s got your back. From demure to debauched, from bare-bones to definitely out of your price range, feast your eyes on our favorite spa-themed pieces through the ages.

Hans Memling, Bathsheba in the bath (1480)

Next time you hit the local bathhouse, don’t forget your sexy turban. Plus, Memling makes a strong case for throwing out your bathrobe collection and draping yourself with a huge white sheet instead. They’re not just for ghosts, guys.

Kamal ud-Din Behzad, Bath House (1495)

First of all, here’s definitive proof that spas aren’t #justgirlythings—everyone, including these macho gentlemen, need a little pampering from time to time. Also, next time you’re redecorating your home spa (I wish), let your imagination run wild in the tile aisle of the home improvement store and dream up some funky mosaic patterns, as pictured above.

Albrecht Durer, Woman’s Bath (c. 1496)

To spa it up Northern Renaissance style, invite your six closest friends over and make sure they bring some fresh boughs to hit yourself on the back with while you steam.
Bonus tip: if all your scrunchies have decided to take off on a tropical vacation the second you need to keep your hair back, swap in a spare basket to keep those pesky strands out of your face. Thanks, Durer!

Georg Pauli, Roman Bath (1882)

Not gonna lie, this might be my biggest spa fantasy. Just by looking at the canvas, you know that it smells like neroli orange blossoms and fresh-baked cookies (my idea of heaven) and that there’s definitely a hefty jug of good wine just out of the frame. Pencil me in, Pauli.

Mary Cassatt, The Bath (1890-1891)

Mary Cassatt might be most famous for her paintings of mothers and children, but it’s this piece from her Japanese phase that makes you want to stop what you’re doing and put on a striped terry-cloth robe immediately. Also, major interior décor inspo alert re: the lovely, complimentary color carpet. It’s exactly how I imagine the spa waiting room carpet of a five-star but slightly kitschy boutique hotel, and I’m all about it.

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, The Baths of Caracalla (1899)

When your friend says “it’s super casual, just wear something comfy.”

Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, Bathing of a Red Horse (1912)

Instead of your rubber duckies, why not take a bath with your horse?

Joaquín Sorolla, After the Bath (1916)

Joaquín Sorolla was a man far ahead of his time: he predicted Millennial pink a whole century before it hit our IG feeds. Now that the trend is dying down, this painting makes a convincing case for keeping it alive in your wardrobe, after the bath and before.

Joan Miró, Bathing Woman (1925)

Note to self: take more moon baths.

Salvador Dalí, The Bather (1928)

Tell me this isn’t how you feel after 30 minutes in the hot tub.

Tamara de Lempicka, Women Bathing (1929)

If you’re not feeling yourself at the spa as much as the woman in the foreground, you’re doing it wrong.

Pierre Bonnard, The exit of the bath (c. 1930)

This one’s mostly in here for the spa interior inspiration, but is it just me or does that look precarious AF? There has to be an easier way to get out of a bathtub.

Giorgio de Chirico, The Mysterious Bath (1938)

Or, according to de Chirico, if your spa doesn’t come with a diving board into a pool that looks suspiciously like it’s filled with blood, you’re doing it wrong. Here’s hoping life doesn’t imitate art and your holiday spa adventures don’t include any men in uniforms—unless it’s the locker room attendant.

Rene Magritte, The cut-glass bath (1946)

Jot down “giraffe” under “horse” on your list of spa animals.

Domenico Gnoli, What Is a Monster? Woman Sole in Bath Tub (1967)

What is a monster? That’s a question for another article, but I bet you wouldn’t be happy to discover that thing lurking in the bottom of your tub next time you step in for a soothing bubble bath. Could make a great practical joke to play on that cousin you’ve never gotten along with, though… not that I’m suggesting it in any way, of course. Do what you will with that.

John Dominis, Steve McQueen and his wife, Neile Adams, in a sulfur bath, Big Sur, California, 1963 (1963)

I’ll ask one more time: you really don’t wish you weren’t alive in the 60s?

Valerio Adami, Hotel Chelsea Bathroom (1968)

Another delightful color palette… but wait! What’s going on at the right edge of the frame? Is there a hole in the wall? Is someone hiding behind the curtain? So much for a straightforward bathroom pic.
Also, note the location: the notorious Chelsea Hotel. Was this the bathroom where Sid stabbed Nancy?! I digress.

Deborah Turbeville, Bath House, VOGUE, New York (1975)

bath house
And just like that, you spent your entire holiday shopping allowance on vintage swimsuits on eBay…

Jo Ann Callis, Figure in Bath (1976-77)

jo ann
No, this isn’t a saucy IG post; it’s a picture by Jo Ann Callis, one of the pioneering feminist artists to work with staged sets. It’s kind of striking how modern the picture looks. Each time you see a super aesthetic flower-petals-in-bathtub shot, think of Callis.

Nan Goldin, Lydia Lunch at the Russian baths, New York (1985)

Spa or Soviet bunker? Classic mix-up.

Fernando Botero, The Bath (1993)

Alternative title: when you look in the mirror on January 1.

Martin Parr, HUNGARY. Budapest. Szechenyi thermal baths (1977)

I hope that in in another life, I can come back as a Hungarian grandfather (not a Hungarian man, a Hungarian grandfather) so I can live this scene in all its glory.

Ryan McGinley, Untitled (Bathtub) (2005)

Kinda makes you stop and question how close you really are to your friends if you aren’t hanging out naked in bathtubs together.

Sage Sohier, Cedar enzyme bath, Osmosis Spa, Freestone, CA (2010)

sage sohier
This makes me psyched to be a hippie grandma one day.

Juno Calypso, The Honeymoon Suite (2015)

calypso honeymoon
When you’re feeling moody and need a little alone time, pull a Juno Calypso: travel to a random town in Pennsylvania, check into a honeymoon suite for one and spend a few weeks photographing yourself dystopian prima donna alter-ego.

Marilyn Minter, Deep Frost (2016)


Text by Katya Lopatko
Photos via WikiArt, Artsy, Creative Boom, Artspace and Rose Gallery.

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