Lot 34
  • 34

John William Godward, R.B.A.

300,000 - 500,000 GBP
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  • 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


Edgar Williamson, sold by his executors, Christie’s, 22 June 1934, lot 18, bought by Nathan Mitchell, London;
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


London, New Gallery, 1900, no.225


Vern Swanson, John William Godward – The Eclipse of Classicism, 1997, pp.63, 203-204, cat.no.1900.14, reproduced p.67 colour plate 40


Original canvas. There are some fine areas of craquelure, mainly to the figure's leg and arm otherwise the work appears in very good overall condition. Under ultraviolet light there appear to be some minor retouchings along upper left edge and a few isolated areas to the upper half of the background. Some flecked, cosmetic retouchings to her arm, neck and face. These have been well executed and are not excessive. Held in its original exhibition gilt frame.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

‘One of Godward’s most impressive oils, The Toilette combines the privacy of a woman’s toilette with the sensual intimacy of her diaphanous chiffon dress. She pays no mind to anything but her task of primping for the fast approaching lover’s tryst. We see in the drapery that Godward has fully painted the nude form of the woman, then sensitively added what he was best at, the subliminal bluish coa vestis tunic.’ (Vern Swanson, John William Godward – The Eclipse of Classicism, 1997, p.63)

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.