Duncan Grant, 'Bathing' 1911
Duncan Grant
Bathing 1911
Oil on canvas
support: 2286 x 3061 mm
Purchased 1931© Tate

Since the sun is out, this week we've chosen Bathing by Duncan Grant as the second in our Work of the Week series.

Duncan Grant was part of the influential British ‘Bloomsbury Group’ - an intellectual circle of writers artists and critics, who lived in the Bloomsbury area of London in the early part of the twentieth century. He was born in Scotland in 1885 and spent his early childhood in India. He entered the Westminster School of Art in 1902, and then travelled to Italy and France, before returning to London and studying at the Slade School of Art. He was introduced to Matisse and visited Picasso’s Paris studio a number of times.

In 1911 Grant painted this work (and another now held in the Tate Collection; Football) for the dining room at Borough Polytechnic in South London (now London South Bank University). The project was organized by fellow Bloomsbury Set member, Roger Fry, and he worked alongside other young artists to create works on the theme ‘London on Holiday’. They had to complete the work during the students’ Summer vacation, and only had a small budget, so they painted in oil on to canvas panels, rather than the more traditional tempera directly on to the walls. Bathers shows seven male figures swimming in the Serpentine. Grant’s stylised approach was influenced not only by by Michelangelo’s ink studies (in particular his lost cartoon ‘Battle of Cascina’), but possibly also by his knowledge of French Post-Impressionist painting. They are not individuals but idealised figures, and the panorama shows a continuous movement from diving in to hauling out of the river into a boat.

As a commentator from The Times in September 1911 put it:

‘Do not ask yourself, as you look at it, whether it is at all like the Serpentine or any bathers in it that you have ever seen. It is not, and is not meant to be. But, if you will not demand any illusion, you will find that it gives you an extraordinarily keen sense of the pleasure of swimming. In fact it acts on you like poetry or music. Mr Grant has used all his remarkable powers of draughtsmanship to represent the act of swimming rather than any individual swimmers.’

‘Bathers’ is currently on display in Room 16 at Tate Britain. The Work of the Week feature will showcase a work from the Tate Collection each week.


Alex Pilcher

Nice choice! I'll certainly make a point of visiting Room 16 as it's always a pleasure to see this painting. I find it particularly impressive bearing in mind how unattractive pretty much every other painting by Duncan Grant is!

Given the related subject matter, it makes an interesting comparison with David Bomberg's wonderful "Mud Bath" of three years later. (And, like Grant, Bomberg as far as I know never painted another work of the same quality.) It would be a real treat to see these two masterpieces of early British modernism works hung alongside each other one day.

But I think what I'd appreciate even more is a chance to see the whole group of Borough Polytechnic murals on display at Tate Britain. There are, I believe, seven of these works in the Tate Collection and Grant's 'Bathing' is the only one I've ever seen on show in the gallery.


I too, find this picture quite energising. I always enjoy the work of David Grant. It also suggests the circle of dancers by Matisse, does it not? I also recall the painting of 'bathers' by David Bomberg, which I like, which also reminds me of a sea of ants!