“Plouf! A History of Swimming in the Léman”

THE cheerful exhibition Plouf! A History of Swimming in the Léman provides a playful means to learn about the history of the Lake and its significance over the years to fans of its shores and waters. It’s especially informative when combined with a tour of the Museum’s permanent collection of historical artefacts.

Vintage posters and swimsuits speak of local bathers’ love for their lake.

You know you’re in for an imaginative ride when you spot the imitation beachfront changing cabins in front of the Museum on Quai Louis-Bonnard at Nyon’s lakefront.

The lighthearted approach to looking at locals’ love of their Lake includes my favourites: vintage posters and old photographs as well as personal testimonies, official documents, and lots of artefacts, including — if you include them in that category — bathing costumes dating from the Victorian era to the 60s.

Swimmer on a Nautilette: one of 27 photos found at a local flea market and donated to the museum depicting a couple’s summer holiday on the lake in the 1930s.

The subject matter looks at the many issues that propelled bathers into, or kept them out of, the Lake. This includes recreation, sports, architecture, water quality (until the 1950s waste was dumped directly into the Lake leading to swimming bans), phobias and fears (there be monsters!), safety (Geneva’s first swimming school opened in 1790), social norms (bathing costumes were not always worn) and social exclusion (privately owned shorelines were blocked to the general public), as well as fashion and hygiene.

Posters, post cards and pamphlets also show how tourism played a major role in bringing swimmers to Lac Léman from the 1920s onwards. And it looks at the public bathing houses that sprang up along the shores of the Lake that once were hugely popular but have now passed into history.

Swimsuits were skimpier in 1962 when Brigitte Bardot dipped into Lake Geneva for a scene from this film directed by Louis Malle.

The exhibit is a fun way to fill a few hours and even children should enjoy the visit especially if combined with a saunter through the Museum’s permanent exhibition and aquarium that takes a well-rounded approach to all things Lake: boats, costumes, memorabilia from famous races, flags, artefacts from the Lake’s beautiful steam-powered paddle steamers including a pump room, a simulated rescue boat, and a day in the life of a local fisherman.

The Musée du Léman & Aquarium houses a broad range of artifacts relating to sailing, fishing and swimming in Lac Léman.

There’s also a selection of dioramas that depict in minute visual detail some of the more harrowing moments in the life of seamen and pleasure seekers who plied their trade or sought entertainment on the Lake’s waters.

musee du leman nyon
One of a number of hand-crafted dioramas depicting major events on the Lake including here, the rescue of passengers in a hot air balloon downed in a storm on 11 August 1907.

So if you’d like to round out your knowledge about life in and around the Lake — so indispensable to its many fans — then a visit to the Musée du Léman might be the next best thing to actually taking a plunge into its cool waters. 

Tip: A ticket purchased at the Musée du Léman also gives you 1 free admission to the Musée Romain and 1 free admission to the Château de Nyon and is valid for 12 months. Admission is free every first Sunday of the month.

“Plouf! A History of Swimming in the Léman”
Until 30 September 2018
Musée du Léman & Aquarium
Quai Louis-Bonnard 8, 1260 Nyon
Tues-Sun: 10h – 17h
Tel: +41.(0)22.316.42.50

4 responses to ““Plouf! A History of Swimming in the Léman””

  1. I love these photos, Elena and those striped bathhouses are so sweet! The poster illustrations are fabulous, too…

    I wish I could see it, so enjoy it for me!


    P.S. Love that vintage photo of the lady on the water craft thingy!


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