Dame Ethel Walker

Decoration: The Excursion of Nausicaa


Not on display

Dame Ethel Walker 1861–1951
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1835 × 3670 mm
Purchased 1924

Catalogue entry


Inscr. ‘Ethel Walker 1920’ b.l.
Canvas, 72 1/4×144 1/2 (183·5×379·5).
Purchased from the artist (Grant-in-Aid) 1924.
Exh: N.E.A.C., summer 1920 (46); R.A., Decorative Art, winter 1923 (122).
Lit: Mary Chamot, Modern Painting in England, 1937, p.63; Frank Rutter, Modern Masterpieces, n.d., p.276; John Rothenstein, Modern English Painters: Sickert to Smith, 1952, p.84, repr. pl.7, facing p.65.

In several exhibitions of the New English Art Club prior to 1920 the artist exhibited studies ‘for a frieze’ which may have been done in connexion with ‘Nausicaa’. There were also studies of goats shown at the Goupil Gallery Salon, 1919 (199) and at the N.E.A.C., January 1920 (139), and winter 1942 (44 and 48).

Writing to J. B. Manson (Monday, 2 June, no year given, but almost certainly 1924), the artist described her work thus:‘... Nausicaa early one lovely summer's morning goes to her father and mother - the King and Queen - to ask permission to have a waggon and mules given to her to take her and her attendants and to fill it with the clothes of the palace that require washing, also with dainties and wine and good food for a forthcoming picnic - and go down to the river adjoining the sea to wash them - which he gives her. On arriving at the river they unharness the mules and are unpacking or unloading the waggons of the clothes and the food for the picnic, and are beginning to wash them in the river. A little wood divides the sea from the river where the goat girl - kneeling by the tree near her goats - hears the strange voices that are sounding in her usually silent little wood. To show it is the sea a girl, nude, has stepped up on to the bank after bathing....’ The story is based on Book VI of the Odyssey: ‘... they spread/The raiment orderly along the beach/Where dashing tides .../... leaving the garments, stretch'd/ In noon-day fervour of the sun, to dry.’

Vernon Wethered commissioned the artist to paint a small replica of ‘Nausicaa’ and he also owned the preliminary watercolour of this version. These were sold anonymously at Christie's, 27 November 1953 (158), and both were bought as one lot by Roland, Browse and Delbanco for 20 gns. The oil painting, canvas, 24×48 in., is signed ‘Ethel Walker’ b.l. and agrees in almost every detail with N03885. The watercolour sold with it, 19 3/4×38 1/2 in., is exactly the same composition as N03885, and in February 1957 belonged to Professor Francis Wormald. This is almost certainly the watercolour exhibited at Agnew's in February–April 1938 (18), and Miss Grace English noted (typescript MS.) that on 1 February 1938 Dame Ethel Walker planned to paint another ‘Nausicaa and Her Maidens’ from an imperial size watercolour sketch then on show at Agnew's. The same watercolour may also have been that shown in the exhibition Ethel Walker: New Paintings, Lefevre Gallery, April 1939 (38). At the N.E.A.C., winter 1938 (214), the artist showed ‘Decoration: Nausicaa and her Maidens’, probably the oil.

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, II


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