Tag Archives: nude bathing

Before there was a Detroit Institute of Arts, there was the Detroit Museum of Art. And before there was the Detroit Museum of Art, there was a Detroit Art Loan Exhibition [1]. It was in 1883 that the first major art exhibition was held in Detroit. The exhibition contained over forty-eight hundred items, including oil paintings, watercolors, sculptures, bronzes, prints and drawings by American and European artists displayed in twenty-six large rooms [2]. For ten weeks, from September 1 through November 14, “134,925 people paid twenty-five cents to visit the exhibit hall” [3]. The exhibition’s success proved that “the city of Detroit has taste and wealth enough to found and maintain an art gallery” [2,4].

Temporary brick building built to house the Art Loan Exhibition for 10 weeks in 1883. The building was subsequently converted into a roller-skating rink [4,5].

During the exhibition, a newsletter, The Detroit Art Loan Record, was published. The complete set can be found in The Detroit art loan record. One volume. September 1 to November 14, 1883 [6]. The newsletter hosted the (rather one-sided) discussion concerning the Nude in Art that appears interesting.

The work of art that provoked public discussion was Nymphs at the Bath by William-Adolphe Bouguereau [7,8]. The painting now known as The Nymphaeum (1878) [9] was created as an “exhibition piece” and displayed at the 1878 Universal Exposition in Paris. At present, the painting is in the Haggin Museum in Stockton, California (Location: Haggin Room) [10]. The Nymphs at the Bath were the part of the Hazeltine Collection and came to Detroit from Chicago [11]. A superb collection of thirty-one paintings “secured from the Art Department of the Chicago Exhibition” represented “more than $100,000 in priced value” [6] (p. 148). ($100,000 in 1883 equals to $2,331,817 in 2018 [12]). The Bouguereau was “held at $25,000”. Despite the fact that Bouguereau was considered as the great master, the acceptance of the “Nymphs” for exhibition was not easy (in contrast to another Bouguereau – “The Twins,” valued at $20,000). Three ladies from a women’s Organizing Committee were invited to Chicago in a hope to convince them that the picture “would not offend”.

The ladies gazed in disapproving silence until suddenly, looking at Bouguereau’s “The Nymphs at the Bath,” Mrs. Stewart exclaimed, “Why they are dolls. Life sized figures would be objectionable but when they are so small the effect is quite different.” Almost in relief the ladies agreed [11] (p. 160).

The size of the painting is 57 x 82 1/2 inches (145 x 210 cm).

The information about the reception of the painting at the exhibition is contradictory and unclear. Cheboygan Democrat from 8 November 1883 informed its readers that “Bouguereau’s painting of “The Nymphs at the Bath” was hung in an obscure corner and was quite neglected by visitors, who had heard it was improper” [13]. In The Detroit Art Loan Record, one can read that Room K, where the painting was exhibited, suddenly became “more of a resort for gentlemen than for ladies” and that “a room 30 feet square is constantly filled with admiring male gazers” [6] (p. 189).

The Record offered “the masterly, if not conclusive, argument of President Bascom”, who believed that the practice of nudity in art “violates the laws of propriety”.

The source of this practice is against it. It is Grecian, pagan, in its origin. Because the Art of Greece has kindled our own, it does not thereby follow that a Christian people are to adopt entire the Art of an idolatrous and licentious people. <…> The Grecians were accustomed to the naked athlete, and had a right, which our artists and critics have not, to know the nude human form. Our artists reach their knowledge second-hand or surreptitiously then flaunt it against decency. <…> The forerunner of nude Art with us ought to be nude life. <…> Facts are against this practice. The nudity of Grecian and Italian Art in part sprang from and in part occasioned the licentiousness of those communities. [6] (p. 185-186).

In her newsletter column, Mrs. Sara M. Skinner wrote the letters from “Bessie” to “Mollie”:

I can’t help thinking that if the influence of nudity in Art is good, its influence in reality would be good also. Now here is a problem for you to analyze: If 13 females on a canvas are so beautiful with no clothes on, that a room 30 feet square is constantly filled with admiring male gazers, why should 1 poor live female be so condemned when she appears on the street partly covered with clothes? If nudity is ennobling, “purifying” to the beholder, why do education and civilization put clothes onto people? I tell you, Mollie, as you know, that women, whether nymph-like or not, never bathe nudely in the presence of each other, and lovely woman is so much of a prude that she for one needs not the nude to “purify” her. (The last words of Bessie [6], p. 189)

Looking at The Nymphaeum by Bouguereau, one can indeed find 13 “stark-naked nymphs” with “impossibly smooth skins” and “harmoniously proportioned bodies” bathing “in a secret woodland grotto, with a satyr and Greek youth peeping through the bushes”, just a “pure fantasy, meant to transport the viewer from the day-to-day cares and boredom of modern urban life into a serene daydream of classical Arcadia” [10].

I think maybe Bessie was right,

if the influence of nudity in Art is good, its influence in reality would be good also.

The Nymphaeum (1878) by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905)

[1] Ardelia Lee, Before There Was A Detroit Institute Of Arts, There Was The Detroit Museum Of Art, Daily Detroit, Aug 21, 2016
[2] Bill Loomis, On This Day in Detroit History, Arcadia Publishing, 2016
[3] Arthur M. Woodford, This is Detroit, 1701-2001, Wayne State University Press, 2001
[4] Jeffrey Abt, A Museum on the Verge: A Socioeconomic History of the Detroit Institute of Arts, 1882-2000, Wayne State University Press, 2001
[5] Art Loan Exhibition Hall | Detroit Public Library
[6] The Detroit art loan record. One volume. September 1 to November 14, 1883, Detroit, H.A. & K.B.Ford, 1883
[7] William-Adolphe Bouguereau – Wikipedia
[8] Bouguereau, William Adolphe 1825-1905 [WorldCat Identities]
[9] William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) – The Nymphaeum (1878). From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository
[10] The Nymphaeum c. 1878 by Bouguereau, William-Adolphe – The Haggin Museum
[11] Alice Tarbell Crathern, In Detroit courage was the fashion; the contribution of women to the development of Detroit from 1701 to 1951, Detroit, Wayne University Press, 1953
[12] 1883 dollars in 2018 | Inflation Calculator
[13] Cheboygan Democrat, 8 November 1883

Naturist holidays shouldn’t start and end at the nudist beach. Browsing the German sites I’ve encountered a few interesting (and less common, at least for someone) options. I decided to make a note of them, just in case.

(1) Nude riding
Those impressed by the legend of Lady Godiva may try to ride naked in the meadows on the south of Bonn. Michael Zauels, who organizes the rides, is quoted to say

The meadows and roads where we ride are very isolated. Sometimes we meet walkers with their dogs, but we come across very favorably.

Rides take place from May to October. The tour may take up from a half to four hours.

coming at ya DSC_8602 by Rob Featonby on Flickr - Photo Sharing!

coming at ya DSC_8602 by Rob Featonby on Flickr - Photo Sharing!

(2) Nude Sailing
German company with its own charter yachts, own base and German skippers organizes one-week and ten-day trips through the Greek islands of the northern Sporades. Sailing experience is not necessary.

deck hand by mediorce on Flickr - Photo Sharing!

deck hand by mediorce on Flickr - Photo Sharing!

(3) Hiking in a birthday suit
Don’t you know that the origins of Nacktwanderns (Naked hiking) go back to the beginning of the last century, when the first pioneers dressed in a romantic understanding of nature started practicing nude walks? Nude hikers prefer small groups and less busy roads. Their website explains that

In random encounters with other hikers we meet occasionally with baffled, but consistently positive reactions.

The hiking tours in Sauerland and in the Taunus are scheduled for April. May will begin with the walk in the Harz. The registration form to participate in the events is provided.

Naked Hike (7772A) by Ron's Log on Flickr - Photo Sharing!

Naked Hike (7772A) by Ron's Log on Flickr - Photo Sharing!

(4) Naked bike ride to the Baltic sea
The Udesom island on the Baltic sea was mentioned twice in my blog (on the occasion of the so called ‘Nudist war‘, see links below). Those German nudist who prefer cycling rather than riding may participate in a Nacktradeltour (Naked bike tour) from Berlin to Usedom. The tour is scheduled to be held from July 24 to August 8, 2010.

Naked and Active – Naked Horse Riding
Nackt reiten
FKK – Segeln in Griechenland
Nacktwandern – Auch was für Dich?
Die Nackten werden jetzt aktiv von Rudi Stallein
FKK-Urlaub: Die Nackten verlassen die Reservate von Rudi Stallein
Border conflict about nudism
Usedom: Addendum

Sometimes I think that almost every contradiction may be viewed as The Conflict Between East and West.

Seventeen years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the cultural divide between former East Germans and West Germans is being laid bare at beach resorts,” reported Claudia Rach, Bloomberg News two years ago (see also The New York Sun from September 7, 2006).

K. Bacher in his famous “205 Arguments and Observations In Support of Naturism” quotes Lee Baxandall, according whom

“almost every town on East Germany’s coast has an FKK beach, some 90 sites serving 200,000 campers/lodgers annually; more FKK than textile beaches. A GDR poll found 57% of the population approving of nude recreation, 30% had no opinion, and only 13% opposed.”

FKK-Strand am Schwielochsee. Bild 183-1985-0817-002

FKK-Strand am Schwielochsee

Even, if the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was “Unrechtsstaat” (”unjust state”), while now East Germany is “free,” many of its beaches aren’t. The West is blamed for exporting to the East both pornography and beach restrictions.

Nowadays according to the estimations ascribed to the DFK (German naturist federation) as many as two-fifths of beaches previously used by nudists since Germany reunified in 1990 has lost their nudist statuses.

Claudia Rach wrote that

Since communism’s collapse in 1989, Baltic resorts have added new hotels and restaurants, renovated boardwalks and cleaned up water pollution.
That led to a surge in western tourists, with visitors to the Baltic coast jumping to 5.06 million last year from 1.98 million in 1992, according to the statistical office for the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.
Property prices in Germany’s Baltic region have risen 25 percent since 1995, more than the national average, according to a study by the GEWOS Institute for Urban, Regional and Housing Research in Hamburg.
“When people with money holiday in freshly renovated resorts, the last thing they want are naked bodies on their doorstep,” said Wolfgang Weinreich, head of the International Naturist Federation.

The reporter quotes Urs Wagner, the German naturist and Berlin retiree, 57, who said, “It’s a really intense feeling of nature that everyone should experience. But who knows for how much longer. We’re a dying breed.”

In my previous post about the nudist war on the German-Polish border I mainly quoted news articles. They do indeed make an impression that the open-minded Germans contrast with the Poles in their readiness to accept nudity. Of course, not all Germans are open-minded (but I think many of them are :-)). While, concerning the Poles, it is true that the Catholic Church has a strong presence in Polish society. It has roots in the history. In 1795, the third and the last of three military partitions of Poland ended the existence of an independent Polish state. In the absence of their own state, the Polish society begun identifying Polishness with Catholicism. In 1918 the Polish state was reconstructed, but after the Second World War Poland was under the control of pro-Soviet Communists and the situation repeated (see, e.g., Catholicism and politics in communist societies by Sabrina P. Ramet).

It had far-reaching consequences. Catholicism does not accept nudity. In 2002 the results of the investigations of Sopocka Pracownia Badań Społecznych (Sopot Laboratory for Social Research) were published. It appeared that

57% of all Polish spouses never saw their husband or wife naked.
92% of Poles claim that, going naked in their homes, even for a moment, is strictly prohibited.
97% of Polish sons did not see their fathers naked.
95% of Polish daughters never saw their mothers naked and so on.

It raised questions like, “Are we a nation of people who are ashamed of their bodies?” But I would not overestimate the results of the surveys like that. The transition of Poland from closed society to an open society allows for a distinction between natural and man-made law, and an increase in personal responsibility and accountability for moral choices.

Concerning German-Polish nude bathing war the German site, The Local, quotes Robert Karelus, spokesman for the city of Świnoujście, who said that

Poles weren’t as squeamish about nude bathing as had been portrayed in the media.
Swimming in the buff was getting more popular in Poland and several nudist beaches had sprung up off the coast of Poland too in recent years.
The new signs on Usedom will not prompt Polish beach-goers to turn back.
We aren’t so prudish at all.


Ala, originally uploaded by jędrek.

On the 21st of December 2007 Poland entered into the Schengen agreement and soon afterwards the Usedom beach on the German-Polish border between the German and Polish towns of Ahlbeck and Świnoujście (Swinemünde), became the scene of … the ‘Nudist war‘. At least the German tabloid Bild depicted the local conflict as ‘Nudist war on the German-Polish border‘. If you are interested in news about naturism or paying attention to anything weird you presumably didn’t miss this story. I think, any book or series of posts about German naturism would not be complete without it :-). So I’ll state it here in brief.

A map of the islands of Usedom and Wolin and environs, Germany/Poland.

A map of the islands of Usedom and Wolin and environs, Germany/Poland.

The Baltic Sea island of Usedom is divided by the border between Germany and Poland into the German and Polish parts. Usedom has six nudist beaches along its 40-kilometer stretch of coastline – one of which is just a few meters from the border. The beaches have been nudist beaches for almost fifty years, at least on the German side (The German part of the island belonged to East Germany between 1949 and 1990).

The oldest publications that I’ve found are dated August 2008, the newest are from April and May, 2009. At the end of 2007 and at the beginning of 2008 everything looked perfect. The online magazine cited Janusz Zmurkiewicz, president of Świnoujście, who said in December 2007: ‘Finally we will be able to cross over without showing our passports wearing only our swimming costumes in summer’. But, as Monika Stefanek, the author of the article in, noted, there was one thing he couldn’t have foreseen: not everyone on the German side of the beach covers themselves up. The problem came to light with the first summer temperatures.

Achtung Grenze: Die Polen auf Usedom sind entsetzt, wie nackt es auf der anderen Seite zugeht.

Achtung Grenze: Die Polen auf Usedom sind entsetzt, wie nackt es auf der anderen Seite zugeht.

When the border signs on Usedom island were removed, Polish holidaymakers moved their feet to yet unknown beach across the border and many of them were outraged by the nudists. “I do not want my four year old daughter to know the anatomy” said a 47-year-old Polish woman. Kazimierz Sajadeusz, the 68-year-old priest in Świnoujście,  stressed: “From a Catholic point of view the nudists are sinners.” Edward Zajac, a councillor for Świnoujście, a self-proclaimed ‘moral guardian’, wanted to relocate the nudist beach far from the Polish border. If this is not possible, the nudist area should be shielded from view.

The Germans replied that what people forget today is that Goethe bathed naked, Bismarck bathed naked, and the royal spa-doctor Richard Kind from Swinemünde on Usedom warned in 1828 against bathing in swimsuits, because they neutralize the beneficial effect of the pounding of the waves. … The bathing war is as old as bathing itself.

Ein Paradies für Nudisten: Auf der Insel Usedom hat die Freikörperkultur (FKK) schon zu DDR-Zeiten die Touristen angezogen.

Ein Paradies für Nudisten: Auf der Insel Usedom hat die Freikörperkultur (FKK) schon zu DDR-Zeiten die Touristen angezogen.

France24 concludes: ‘Passport controls between Poland and Germany may have vanished. But the border dividing sunbathers in swimming suits and those wearing nothing at all is as rigid as ever.’

Auf deutscher Seite sieht das am Strand oft so aus.

Auf deutscher Seite sieht das am Strand oft so aus.

A few months ago a nudist compromise between Germany and Poland or a ceasefire was set to end the nudist war on Usedom beach. A peace plan provides that signs written in both German and Polish should mark off the naked-friendly territory from the clothes-only section. Additional signs will be prominently placed to remind German sunbathers that the Poles want to keep their beach free of bare bum sightings (quoted from

The locals of the island don’t like the interest that they have provoked by this conflict. They believe that the international press seems to be much more interested in this affair than the local one. And that there are a lot of real important things which are worth to be published. The mentioned international mass media consider it as a conflict of values between open-minded Germans and strict Catholics in Poland. But I would not oversimplify the issue.

In the 1950s Johannes R. Becher, the author of the text for the East German National Anthem, the President of the Academy of Arts and later the Communist Minister for Culture of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), went for a walk at the dunes of the Baltic coast and unexpectedly noticed a lady sunbathing in the nude. Outraged, he shouted to her, “Shame on you, you old sow!”. Some time later it was a special event held on the occasion of the presentation of the East German National Prize (Nationalpreis der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik) to the writer Anna Seghers. Johannes Becher was entrusted to welcome the prize-winner. He started his speech and addressed himself to Anna Seghers: “Dear Anna”. But he was immediately interrupted by the writer: “For you, Hans, still old sow!”

Bei Warnemünde, FKK-Verbotsschild

Bei Warnemünde, FKK-Verbotsschild

This anecdote can be found in Rainer Schmitz’s book “Was geschah mit Schillers Schädel?” (What happened to Schiller’s skull?) and it is very popular at the sites devoted to the German naturism. It is presented as a true story. In my previous posts I wrote a few words about the flourishing of the nudism in the Eastern Germany before Germany became united in 1990.  But it was not that easy.

In March 1933 the Nazis banned all naturist clubs and associations. After the World War II, in the early 1950s Ahrenshoop, the seaside resort on the Baltic Sea, was the first place where East German artists and intellectuals introduced the nude bathing. In fact, it was the popular nude beach already in the times of Weimar Republic. Unfortunately, Johannes R. Becher with his pathos appeal to save “the eyes of the nation” from “some people with their deformed bodies provocatively exposed” was not an only opponent to the free body culture (FKK). Among the most influential opponents was Karl Maron, Police Chief, Deputy Interior Minister and later the Minister of the Interior of the GDR (from 1955 to 1963). In May 1954 the town administration of Ahrenshoop banned nude bathing. On August 14, 1954 the GDR government extended the ban on nude bathing (Nacktbadeverbot) for the entire East German Baltic Sea coast and from the Szczecin Lagoon. But some East Germans were ready to defend a tiny bit of private liberty. They began to protest, wrote letters and submissions to the government. The fact that the Communist GDR still supports the prohibition of nudism from the Nazi era did not strengthen the position of authorities. In June 1956 the GDR government had to introduce a new arrangement to regulate outdoor recreation. Henceforth, the nude bathing in “places to which everyone has access” became permitted if these places would “be explicitly marked and adopted by the relevant local councils“. Nude bathing received, with some restrictions, the state’s blessing and soon became the mass movement in the GDR.

FKK-Anhängerinnen an der Ostsee

FKK-Anhängerinnen an der Ostsee