This sketchy painting is one of the most charming bathing scenes among a group painted by Anders Zorn in 1888. Zorn captures a single moment during a bright summer morning at the shore. Stones of different forms and shades are reflected in the clear and nearly motionless water. Mother and child, both nude, seem to melt into the landscape. With its thin colors and efficiency of brushstrokes, Morning Toilet illuminates Zorn's transition from a watercolorist to an oil painter at this time in his career.
Executed outdoors on a small island in the Stockholm archipelago, Morning Toilet is part of a larger group of nude paintings and drawings in which Zorn explored the motif of a mother bringing her child into the water. Most of the pictures show a mother standing next to her boy, bending slightly over him, and tenderly holding her arm around his neck…. Morning Toilet accentuates instead an idyllic landscape setting. The group is shown at some distance along the shore, with the child now confidently stepping into the shallow and presumably warmer water. Zorn attempts to emphasize the harmonious relationship between the human figures and surrounding landscape. He celebrates an arcadian unity between nature and mankind.
Zorn claimed that he painted his nudes on the spot, outdoors, in the archipelago. The paintings have a fresh and spontaneous look, as if the colors were directly applied in a short amount of time. Mother and child in… appear to be unposed, and caught in the moment. Nevertheless, their similar poses, taken from different angles, raise the question of the degree of care with which the figures were actually studied by Zorn. The well-balanced composition hints at considerable time spent by the artist in perfecting the results. An undated photograph perhaps part of a larger series, might have served him as an additional aid to fix the motif.
Pictures of female nudes outdoors are Zorn's most innovative subject type. The summer of 1888 was an extraordinarily fruitful one for Zorn. His subsequent success came quickly. He won a gold medal for A Première at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889, and a medal for another nude painted that summer, Outdoors, at the Salon in Paris, also in 1889. Highly content with Morning Toilet, Zorn made an etching of it under the title With Her Child in 1890. The painting presumably entered Isabella Stewart Gardner's collection as a present in early 1896. In May of that year Zorn wrote enthusiastically to her: "You ask me what I think of the Morning Toilet. Beautiful! Beautiful! Best thing I ever did!" Because of the sensual frankness of Zorn's nude paintings, they were not as successful in the United States as in Europe. Gardner's Morning Toilet is thus a rarity within American collections. Sometime after its arrival in Puritan-minded Boston, its "scandalous" content was censored by retouching the woman's pubic area. This retouching has now been removed.
Oliver Tostmann, Anders Zorn: A European Artist Seduces America
Paul Holberton Publishing, London, 2013, p.120