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 Picassos 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.