This is one of the most depicted scenes in Balinese woodcarving. A woman drying and combing her hair after bathing. She sits on the rocks along the water’s edge and runs her hands through her long wet hair. The woman wears a flower on her forehead, which may indicate that she is preparing for a prayer service in the temple. Her powerful facial features with almond-shaped eyes, sharp nose and pursed lips are characteristic of the woodcarving style of the 1930s, but this statue was probably made a little later – in the early 1940s. In addition to the figure of the woman, the woodcarver also put a lot of work into the rock, which is decorated with all kinds of floral motifs. The shapes of the plants and her cloth hanging over the rock, form a nice interplay of lines.
This genre of woodcarvings with half-naked women arose in the 1930s when woodcarvers increasingly focused on profane subjects from daily life in Bali. In the early 20th century it was still common for Balinese women not to cover their breasts during the day. This was first recorded by the Dutch-German physician-photographer Gregor Krause. In 1920 Krause published a photo book about daily life in Bali, which contained several nude photos and pictures of men and women bathing in the river. His photos of beautiful people in their natural environment impressed other European artists, who came to Bali to capture this ‘earthly paradise’ in their paintings. The local woodcarvers also capitalized on this paradisiacal image by making statues of bathing women, which sold well to the tourists.
Wood carvings from the 1930s and 1940s are often referred to as Balinese Art Deco because of the stylized shapes. However, contemporary art historians point out that many elements of this style were already present in Indonesian traditional arts and crafts. For example, the almond-shaped eyes, sharp noses and thin limbs are also visible in wayang kulit figures (leather shadow puppets). That’s why it is now also called the ‘wayang style’.