John William Godward, R.B.A.
- John William Godward, R.B.A.
- Preparing for the Bath
- signed and dated l.r.: J.W. Godward. 1900.; further signed and inscribed on an old label attached to the reverse: The Toilet/ J.W. Godward/ 410 Fulham Road/ SW
- oil on canvas
- 161 by 77cm., 63½ by 30½in.
- Frame: 202 x 118 x 16 cm
Richard Green, London;
Sotheby’s, Belgravia, 15 July 1982, lot 39;
Fine Art Society, London, 1983;
Christie’s, 3 June 1994, lot 154, where purchased by the present owner
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NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS PRINTED IN THE SALE CATALOGUE."
The setting for Preparing for the Bath, also known as The Toilette or The Toilet, is a tepidarium (warm bath), the central atrium in a Roman bathhouse or thermae used as a dressing and undressing room, from which radiated the caldarium (hot bath) and frigidarium (cold bath). The arched recesses used as shelves for the bather’s clothes and possessions are divided by telamones sculpted in porphyry into the figures of Atlas supporting the universe on his shoulders. These sculptures were copied directly from those in the tepidarium at the thermae in Pompeii. The table supported by a carved lion is also similar to examples found in the excavations and examples of the red and black painted walls can be found at Pompeii. The girl has removed her jewellery which is safely stored in an ivory casket, and the bindings from her hair, which she has combed and to which she is applying oil from a small silver box.
Godward’s picture was painted only a year after Alma-Tadema’s famous bathhouse picture Thermae Antoniniae (Collection of Lord Lloyd Webber), depicting the baths of the Emperor Caracalla in Rome which were so large that they could accommodate 1,600 bathers and were lavishly decorated with coloured marble and the best examples of Roman sculpture (including one of the best-known classical statues, the Farnese Hercules). The subject of the bathhouse had obvious attractions for Alma-Tadema, who used them as the setting for some of his most erotic paintings, including In the Tepidarium of 1881 (Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight), The Frigidarium of 1890 (private collection) and A Favourite Custom of 1909 (Tate). Another example is the watercolour A Balneatrix (lot 43 in this sale). Godward also found thermae scenes irresistible, painting In the Tepidarium in 1913 (private collection).
The present picture depicts a similar scene to Venus Binding her Hair (sold in these rooms, 23 May 2013, lot 24) in which a naked girl is re-tying her hair in the dressing room of a thermae. A sketch for Preparing for the Bath suggests that Godward had initially intended to depict this girl naked and later added the diaphanous draperies which almost resemble torrents of clear water over her body. In the late 1890s and into the twentieth century, Godward painted a series of large-scale and monumental female nudes, including Campaspe in 1896 (sold in these rooms, 14 December 2006, lot 127), Circe in 1898 (unlocated) The Delphic Oracle in 1899 (Christie's, 3 June 1994, lot 153) and Venus at the Bath of 1901 (private collection). In the same period, he also exploited the erotic suggestion of pale flesh being visible through transparent togas, in pictures such as Mischief and Repose of 1895 (J. Paul Getty Museum of Art, Malibu), A Fair Reflection of 1899 (private collection) and The New Perfume in 1914 (private collection).
It is likely that Preparing for the Bath depicts the professional model Ethel Maud Warwick (1882-1951) who posed for Godward around the turn of the century. He first painted her in 1898 when he made a portrait study of her head and shoulders (Russell-Cotes Art Gallery, Bournemouth) and in the next few years he used her as a model for his classically-inspired pictures. She was not shy about posing naked and there is a series of nude photographs of her by the cartoonist for Punch magazine, who was also an amateur photographer. Ethel was a student of painting and acting who funded her studies by posing for artists and among those who painted her were Herbert Draper who depicted her as a sea-nymph in his The Lament for Icarus in 1898 (Tate), Philip Wilson Steer who dressed her in an elaborate gown in Hydrangeas of 1901 (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge) and Whistler who was smitten by her and devastated when she was tempted away from the art world by the glamour of the stage. In 1900, the year that Godward completed the present picture, Ethel made her stage debut at the Grande Theatre in Fulham, close to Godward's studio on Fulham Road. In the 1900s she was only able to pose intermittently for artists as her acting commitment took most of her time. In 1906 she married Edmund the son of the famous actor Lewis Waller and the couple toured the world in various stage productions until her starlight eventually faded.