Watercolour of a woman in the sea

The subject is wading in the sea, wearing a red bathing gown or day dress. Notice how the artist creates depth through the use of perspective by adding small boats in the background. Christopher Love writes in “Swimming and Gender in the Victorian World,” that swimming became a recommended source of recreation, “…provided that the exercise was not too violent and the bathing costume was modest” (598). He continues that “sea bathing came to be medically recommended to women with menstruation pains and as a means of increasing fertility” (598).

However, many Victorian women were not taught to swim as it was considered improper for a girl’s father or brother to act as the teacher. By the late 1870s, it became more acceptable for women to earn a decent livelihood as swimming instructors.

It is unclear whether the subject is wearing a bathing gown or entered the water in her day dress. Godey's Lady's Book And Magazine from 1872 advertises several full-sleeve bathing gowns, alongside seaside day dresses. Figure 5 from the advertisement wears a “dress of dark navy blue flannel… [with] short sleeves, which, for our own taste, we would not recommend, although they are worn, but the arms become so very much burnt by exposure” (98).


Detail of bathing dresses and day dresses. Godey’s Lady’s Book, vol. 84, eds. Sarah Hale and L.A. Godey, (Philadelphia: Open Court Publishing Co., 1872), 26.