Sunday, December 18, 2005; N08
This is a curious picture. Francois Clouet painted it in 1571 as a regal titillation, a peep show for the king. As "valet of the chamber," the agreeable Clouet served four successive monarchs, and he knew what French kings liked. "A Lady in Her Bath" is in the National Gallery of Art. She wears pearls, but nothing else. The curtain's been pulled back, and we're right beside her tub. Lovely as a goddess, she is meant to carry memories of Venus at her bath. Clouet's heated picture (the servant at the fire is fetching more hot water) also holds a warning. The naughty little boy reaching for the grapes is hungry for forbidden fruit, if you know what I mean. The grinning peasant wet nurse suckling an infant reveals what's in store.
-- Paul Richard
"A Lady in Her Bath" is one of two surviving paintings signed by Francois Clouet. It hangs in the National Gallery of Art's West Building, Fourth Street and Constitution Avenue NW, in Gallery 41 A. Open Monday through Saturday from 10 to 5 and Sunday from 11 to 6. Closed Christmas Day and New Year's Day. Admission is free.