Lot 15
  • 15

John William Godward

600,000 - 800,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • John William Godward
  • Preparing for the Bath
  • signed J.W. Godward. and dated 1900. (lower right)
  • oil on canvas
  • 63 1/2 by 30 1/2 in.
  • 161 by 77 cm


Thomas McLean, London (acquired directly from the artist)
Edgar Williamson, Esq. (and sold, by his executors, Christie’s, London, June 22, 1934, lot 18)
Nathan Mitchell, London (acquired at the above sale)
Richard Green, London
Sale: Sotheby’s, Belgravia, July 15, 1982, lot 39
Fine Art Society, London, 1983
Sale: Christie’s, London, June 3, 1994, lot 154, illustrated
Acquired at the above sale and sold, Sotheby's, London, December 10, 2014, lot 34, illustrated
Acquired at the above sale


London, New Gallery, 1900, no. 225


Athenaeum, London, 1900, p. 534
Vern Swanson, John William Godward- The Eclipse of Classicism, Suffolk, 1997, pp. 63, 203-4, no. 1900.14, illustrated p. 67, pl. 40


The following condition report was kindly provided by Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc.: This work is in beautiful condition. The canvas is unlined and has slightly relaxed on its stretcher. The paint layer is cleaned and varnished. There is a small retouch beneath the figure's elbows, a spot or two in the lower left corner, and a couple of small marks on the upper right and upper left edge. The work is excellently preserved, particularly given its scale, and it should be hung as is.
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.

Catalogue Note

John William Godward’s large-scale and sensual painting, Preparing for the Bath, was painted only a year after Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s celebrated Thermae Antoninianae (fig. 1, 1899, Collection of Lord Lloyd Webber), depicting the Roman baths of the Emperor Caracalla. The subject of the bathhouse held an obvious attraction for Alma-Tadema, who used them as the setting for some of his most carnal paintings, including In the Tepidarium (1881, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight), The Frigidarium (1890, Private Collection) and A Favourite Custom (1909, Tate Britain, London). Similarly, Godward found such settings irresistible, as they allowed him to indulge his passion for Greco-Roman architecture and decoration, as well as erotically-charged depictions of the female figure.

The present work depicts a scene similar to Venus Binding her Hair (1897, Private Collection) in which a disrobed model in profile is seen wrapping a ribbon around her head. A sketch for Preparing for the Bath suggests that Godward had initially intended to depict this model in the nude, but he later added the diaphanous gown which is tied and draped, caressing her body. As Vern Swanson describes: “One of Godward’s most impressive oils… 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” (Swanson, p. 63). Godward also highlights his appreciation and knowledge of Antique architecture. The excavation of Pompeii in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries captivated the popular imagination, and Godward has emblazoned his model against a red ground that would be typical of the walls in a Pompeiian villa. 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, referencing those in the tepidarium at the thermae in Pompeii.

This canvas is among Godward’s most ambitious in scale, joining a group from this period that includes Campaspe (1896, sold, Sotheby’s London, December 14, 2006, lot 127), Circe (1898, unlocated), The Delphic Oracle (1899, Private Collection) and Venus at the Bath (1901, Private Collection). In the same period, he also exploited the erotic suggestion of pale skin just visible through transparent tunica, in pictures such as Julia (1914, sold in these rooms, May 24, 2017, lot 8), The New Perfume (1914, Private Collection) and Mischief and Repose (1895, J. Paul Getty Museum of Art, Malibu), which also includes the expertly rendered tigerskin. It is likely that Preparing for the Bath depicts Ethel Maud Warwick, a professional model who posed for Godward around the turn of the century (fig. 2). Ethel was a student of painting and acting who funded her studies by posing for artists, including Herbert Draper, Philip Wilson Steer, and James McNeill Whistler, before becoming a stage actress in 1900.