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The Invention of Privacy - School of Fontainebleau

The Invention of Privacy


Privacy through art

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Why you will love it?

Privacy is now a banal social practice, especially when it comes to the bathroom. But this was not always the case! During the Renaissance, people bathed in front of their guests, and in the 17th century, people did not use water while washing up! The exhibition the Invention of Privacy (“La Naissance de l’Intime”) at the Musée Marmottant Monet will plunge you into the evolution of privacy and the history of the bathroom, from the Middle Ages to the 21st century, through a unique collection of paintings, sculptures, drawings, and tapestries. Enjoy! Parisianist

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About this place

2 rue Louis Boilly, 75016 Paris
Line 9 - La Muette
Line C - Boulainvilliers

Monday : Closed
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Monday : Closed Tuesday : 10:00 am - 21:00 pm Wednesday : 10:00 am - 18:00 pm Thursday : 10:00 am - 18:00 pm Friday : 10:00 am - 18:00 pm Saturday : 10:00 am - 18:00 pm Sunday : 10:00 am - 18:00 pm
1 May

Our Insiders' Article

The Birth of Privacy

Taking a shower or a bath alone is nothing surprising today. Privacy is a given. However, this was not always the case. Before the 17th century, bathing was a social event, and guests could attend the hosts bath. Thus, no privacy. Little by little, customs changed and today, a bathroom is a private area which water, per definition. With the exhibition The Invention of Privacy (La Naissance de l’Intime), it is through a unique collection of works of art that you will discover the evolution of privacy and the history of the bathroom, from the Middle Ages to our times.

17th and 18th centuries

The exhibition begins in the Middle Ages, when it was customary to take a bath surrounded by people, as shown in a tapestry at the beginning of the exhibition, dating back to 1500. However, little by little, doctors began to see the bath water as a carrier for diseases and the practice of communal bathing ceased in the 17th century. During this time, people used a dry white cloth and perfume to wash themselves, a practice also known as “dry toilette”. In the 18th century, water came back in the washing process, but there was not yet a room dedicated to washing. With regards to art, nudity disappeared from mainstream paintings, although several artists such as François Boucher (1703-1770) painted “risqué” scenes, which homeowners would only show to a happy few.

19th century

The 19th century marks the birth of the bathroom, thus consequently the birth of privacy. Artists continued to paint women (the artists by definition were only men and therefore only painted naked women), but in the privacy of their own bathrooms. Pay attention to how the artists places you as look at the painting: before the 19th century, you are part of the scene and just another guest in the room. But the impressionist paintings turn you into a voyeur watching a women’s private bathing moment. The theme of women in the bathroom made a strong revival in the late 19th century, with a bit more sensuality and a certain element of pleasure relayed through the various techniques used by the painters.

20th & 21st centuries

With the appearance of cubism and surrealism at the beginning of the 20th century, artists went beyond the idea of privacy. They wanted to invoke an emotion, not just represent a woman cleaning herself. After the exploitation of the idea of privacy and washing by advertisements for cosmetic brands during the second half of the 20th century, the two concepts are no longer unique or trendy in the 2000s. The contemporary artists integrate privacy and washing into more diverse and abstract themes.


The end of the exhibition allows you to continue discovering the basement and first floor of the Musée Marmottant, housing magnificent works by Claude Monet and Berthe Morisot. But after seeing the exhibition, we must ask ourselves what the future holds for our privacy. With social networks and reality TV shows, are we not already taking part in a progressive erasure of privacy? And what will become of the bathroom and our usage of water? Back to an open room maybe….

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