Harold Gilman

Nude at a Window


Not on display

Harold Gilman 1876–1919
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 610 × 508 mm
frame: 842 × 735 × 125 mm
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the Tate Gallery 2010

Technique and condition

The support is a commercially primed, finely woven canvas. An off white ground, probably oil was applied before it was stretched. On top of the ground is a white priming which covers the face of the stretched surface. The artist laid out the initial sketch in dark blue oil colour with bold, brushy strokes. The outline of the figure and the structural outline of the space are discernible in this technique through breaks in the upper layer of paint. Blocks of colour were laid in with rapid, fairly dry brushstrokes giving an impression of solid colour, but broken up with glimpses of ground. Thick impasto paint was applied to build up the figure in short diagonal brushstrokes. Bold contrasting colours are deployed to impart a sense of three-dimensionality to the figure and to create the effects of light. Pale highlights are uppermost. The paint is leanly bound and matt. As it is not protected by varnish or glazing the porous paint has absorbed dirt over time and this has made the overall hue greyer, disturbing the vibrancy of the original colour. The leanness of the paint has also caused some of the impasto peaks to crack and flake, leading to some small losses.

The technique is quite typical of the Camden Town group of painters and is comparable especially to that of Gore and Ginner. Lively textured paint and bright contrasting colours are common aspects of their work.

Annette King
May 2003

Catalogue entry



In this painting a female figure, seen from behind and wearing only stockings, leans towards a window supporting herself with her left arm and right knee on a piece of furniture. It is a casual pose: the figure seems to be trying to reach forward to catch a glimpse of something outside while dressing. It is also a picture of remarkably relaxed and frank sexual allure.
The light from the window creates a contre-jour effect with deep purple shadows down the figure’s left arm and side. A blue and mauve register has been used throughout, punctuated with complementary orange and yellow highlights. Semi-abstract patterns appear to float around the body; these undoubtedly indicate the design of a net curtain, but the gestural quality of their handling lends a dreamlike and private aspect to the scene.
The artist often worked slowly and methodically from squared-up drawings to create his paintings. In this case, however, he loosely sketched the scene directly onto the canvas using dark blue oil paint. The rest of the brushwork is freely handled with the ground showing through in many places, indicating that much of the painting might have been executed with the model in front of him.
It is not known who the model is; she looks to be the same woman depicted in Nude on a Bed c.1911–12 (fig.1),1 while in their 1981 catalogue Andrew Causey and Richard Thomson note that the same setting and possibly the same model were used for Woman Combing her Hair c.1912 (Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter).2 She could be a professional model or possibly the person described by Ethel Sands as being Gilman’s ‘chère amie’ at this time, who also modelled for Walter Sickert; Sickert, likewise, remarked that Gilman kept a ‘superfluous’ woman after his marriage break-up in 1909.3 Although it cannot be known for certain who the model is, the impression given in this painting of the figure’s ease in her nakedness can be seen as suggesting that the scene is one of reciprocal sexual freedom. However, the work is also part of a series Gilman executed at this time that engage with the nude as a subject for modern painting.

The nude

Exhibition and reception


Helena Bonett
November 2010


Andrew Causey and Richard Thomson (eds.), Harold Gilman 1876–1919, exhibition catalogue, Arts Council, London 1981 (27).
Wendy Baron, Miss Ethel Sands and her Circle, London 1977, pp.99, 134. Equally, Causey and Thomson think that the lover might be the model in both Nude on a Bed 1911–12 (York City Art Gallery) and Nude Seated on a Bed 1911–12 (Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester), where the woman looks up at the viewer/artist. This model’s hairstyle and body indicate that she is not the same person as in Tate’s painting. See Arts Council 1981, p.53.
Quoted in Mary S. Watts, George Frederic Watts: The Annals of an Artist’s Life, London 1912, p.11.
Alison Smith, The Victorian Nude: Sexuality, Morality and Art, Manchester and New York 1996, p.8.
See, for example, Woman Washing Her Hair 1906 (Tate N05091).
Reproduced in Arts Council 1981 (21).
Reproduced ibid. (24).
Reproduced in Arts Council 1981 (26).
Quoted in Frank Rutter, ‘Editorial. The Rokeby Venus Again!’, Art News, 28 April 1910, p.200.
Interview in the Star, 22 February 1952. Quoted in Lynda Nead, The Female Nude: Art, Obscenity and Sexuality, London and New York 1992, p.37.
Harold Gilman, ‘The Venus of Velasquez’, Art News, 28 April 1910, p.198.
Of the Arts Council’s The Model. Reclining Nude, Andrew Causey and Richard Thomson note that although the figure ‘faces the spectator, her torso, head and arms are arranged in a similar fashion to Velasquez’s nude’. Arts Council 1981 (26).
Harold Gilman, ‘Composition in Painting’, Art News, 12 May 1910, p.218.
Sir Claude Phillips, ‘Art Exhibitions. The Camden Town Group’, Daily Telegraph, 14 December 1911, p.16.
‘The Carfax Gallery’, Queen, 9 December 1911.
‘Picture Shows. The Camden Town Group’, Times, 11 December 1911, p.12.
James Bolivar Manson, ‘The Camden Town Group’, Outlook, 9 December 1911, pp.823–4.
Reproduced in Wendy Baron, Perfect Moderns: The Camden Town Group, Aldershot and Vermont 2000, fig.5, p.57.
Ibid., p.124.
‘Pictures. The Carfax Gallery’, Times, 24 January 1913, p.10.
This possibly might not be accurate as it is listed as ‘Lent by Mrs M.[ollie] Gore’, Spencer Gore’s widow, to the 1954–5 Arts Council exhibition. In which case, Robert A. Bevan would have acquired it from Mollie after this date.
Walter Bayes, ‘The Camden Town Group’, Saturday Review, 25 January 1930, p.101.
A photograph of the work hanging in the library is reproduced in From Sickert to Gertler: Modern British Art from Boxted House, exhibition catalogue, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh 2008, fig.31, p.69. A photograph of the painting hanging in the drawing room is reproduced in Christopher Neve, ‘Pioneer Collection in a Vivid Setting: Camden Town Pictures at Boxted House’, Country Life, vol.161, no.4170, 2 June 1977, p.1505.

Read full Catalogue entry


You might like

In the shop