Bathing woman with bird

This beautifully carved figurine of a half-naked Balinese woman on a rock* was made by a skilled woodcarver in the 1950s. She’s depicted in an erotic pose with bare breasts and a frangipani flower in her hair. One hand rests defiantly on her buttock, while the other hand covers her pubic area with her sarong. Funny detail is the bird at her feet that looks up curiously. Notice also the movement of her skirt blowing in the wind.

This genre of wood carvings with bathing women originated in the 1930s when woodcarvers started to make statues of scenes from everyday life in addition to traditional religious statues. Usually the woman is depicted sitting on a rock, grooming her hair. So not the bathing itself is depicted, but a moment afterwards or in between baths. Wood carvings of women standing after bathing are somewhat rarer. With these sculptures the emphasis is more on the body and feminine curves.

Collection: Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV), photographer unknown

Island paradise
Figurines of beautiful women were popular with the tourists. This also had to do with Bali’s reputation as an island paradise, which was enhanced by the pictures of bare-breasted women by photographers, such as the German physician Gregor Krause, the German artist Walter Spies and the American photojournalist Horace Bristol. And by the paintings of scantily dressed Balinese women by Western artists like Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur de Merprès and Willem Hofker.

This black and white photo from around 1935 from the archive of the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies shows how the woodcarvers were inspired by everyday scenes. It’s a photo of two bathing young women in the holy well of Pura Tirta Empoel in Tampaksiring. The posture of the woman in the front is similar to the posture of the wooden figurine. However, the woodcarvers were not only inspired by daily life in Bali, but also cleverly chose subjects that sold well to the tourists.

* pictures by BrandNewVintageStore on Etsy

2 thoughts on “Bathing woman with bird

    1. Indeed, I also see some resemblance, but that must be a coincidence. But the Balinese woodcarvers were certainly inspired by Western sculpture, which is also reflected in the more natural postures of the woodcarvings from the 1950s.

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