Lot 11
  • 11

Pavel Tchelitchew

300,000 - 500,000 GBP
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  • Pavel Tchelitchew
  • Bathers
  • signed in Latin and dated 38 l.r.; further bearing various exhibition labels on the stretcher
  • oil on canvas
  • 94.5 by 56cm, 37 1/4 by 22in.


Peter Watson, Paris
Bernard Perlin, New York
Theodore F.Starkowski, New York
Sotheby Parke Bernet New York, Modern Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, 10 April 1980, lot 98
Ruth Ford, New York
Geoffrey Beene, New York, by 1994
Private collection, Switzerland, acquired in 2001
Christie's New York, Impressionist and Modern Art Day Sale, 6 November 2008, lot 241
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner


New York, Midtown Payson Galleries, Pavel Tchelitchev, A Reevaluation, September-November 1994
New York, DC Moore Gallery, Interwoven Lives, George Platt Lynes and his friends, September-October 2001


M.Wishart, High Diver, London: Blond and Briggs, 1977, p.54 mentioned in the text
L.Kirstein, Tchelitchew, Santa Fe: Twelvetrees Press, 1994, pl.46 illustrated in colour; p.172 listed with incorrect dimensions and incorrectly dated 1936
A.Kuznetsov, Pavel Tchelitchew. Metamorphoses, Stuttgart: ARNOLDSCHE Art Publishers, 2012, p.41 mentioned in the text
A.Clark and J.Dronfield, Queer Saint: The Cultured Life of Peter Watson, London: John Blake, 2015, ch.11 A Heavenly Dwelling mentioned in the text


Structural Condition The canvas appears unlined and is securely attached to what certainly appears to be the artist's original keyed wooden stretcher. This is ensuring a stable structural support. There is a slight canvas draw in the upper left corner of the composition. There is also a small canvas distortion above the central figure's head. There are several labels adhered to the reverse of the stretcher. Paint Surface The paint surface has a relatively uneven and slightly discoloured varnish layer. There is also evidence of ingrained dirt and the painting would respond well to cleaning. There is a minor paint loss with an associated small indentation above the central figure's right elbow. There are also a few tiny losses in the lower left corner of the composition and a further tiny paint loss above the centre of the lower edge. There is a slightly raised stretcher-bar line corresponding to the central horizontal stretcher member. This appears stable. There is a small, slightly raised line within the central figure's upper back and a further raised line running through his left leg. These also appear stable. Inspection under ultra-violet light confirms the discoloured varnish layer. Inspection under ultra-violet also shows a small retouching on the left shoulder of the central figure, a small spot on the left hand figure's torso, and a few small spots of retouching on the right part of the upper edge. Summary The painting would therefore appear to be in good and stable condition and would respond well to cleaning, restoration and revarnishing
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

In 1930s Paris, Tchelitchew and his partner Charles Henri Ford ran with a glamourous, but motley crew, of artists, socialites and hangers-on which included Jean Cocteau, Christopher Isherwood, Cecil Beaton and Peter Watson. Watson was an important figure in the British arts scene. Co-founder of the ICA, owner and financial backer of the arts journal Horizon and champion of many young artists, he bought his first Tchelitchew in 1932.

At the outbreak of war, Watson abandoned Paris for London leaving an exceptionally fine art collection behind. A number of works were redistributed or flogged by friends, lovers and dealers, but much fell into the hands of the Nazis. Watson succeeded in recovering parts of his former Paris collection, although Bathers was most likely acquired in London around the time of the exhibition of Phenomena at Arthur Tooth’s gallery. ‘A man made for honeymoons and not for marriages’ in the words of Stephen Spender, on his return he resumed his apartment in the rue du Bac with his on-off boyfriend, the American opium-addicted gigolo Denham Fouts, to whom he gave this picture. Hanging on the bedroom wall of one of the 20th century’s most famous grands horizontals, it did not go unnoticed.

A protégé of Watson’s, the adolescent Michael Wishart, promptly fell in love with Fouts on his arrival in Paris in 1947. In his memoirs he vividly recalls the present lot at this time: ‘Above our bed hung a life-size painting by Tchelitchew, representing a rather fungoid naked Adonis. Painted as though from between the model’s parted feet the focal point was his scrotum, which loomed large in the middle distance. By hanging this painting upside down, or sometimes upon the ceiling above us, Denham created a very vertiginous perspective, wholly suited to our life-style.’ (M.Wishart, High Diver, London: Quartet, 1977) Fouts died in Rome in 1948 of a drug-induced heart condition and Watson subsequently gave up their flat in the rue du Bac selling off many of his pictures.

Originally inspired by sketches made on the shores of Lake Garda, Tchelitchew’s Bathers depicts Ford and the New York City Ballet dancer Nicholas Magallanes. Ford is recognisable on the left wearing the same incongruous pink hat he wears in an earlier portrait but Magallanes’ aggressively foreshortened muscular figure takes centre stage.

We are grateful to Adrian Clark, co-author of 'Queer Saint: The Cultured Life of Peter Watson', for providing additional catalogue information.