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Since the ancient Greeks, artists have painted and sculpted naked figures, usually women, bathing or washing. The nude has long been considered an ideal of beauty, but figures from classical mythology, including Venus and Diana and her nymphs, and even subjects from the Bible, such as Bathsheba bathing and Susannah and the Elders, appealed to voyeuristic and erotic instincts.

Even in the more puritanical nineteenth century, William Etty’s work was controversial for its realism, not for its subject matter. The Impressionists’ interest in private lives, as seen in the distinctive approaches of Degas and Sickert, ignored the public taste of the time. Henry Scott Tuke was unusual in successfully specialising in boys and young men swimming and on the beach.