Nude in Bath 1986 signed and dated 'brett whiteley May 86' upper left, artists monogram lower left watercolour, gouache and oil on card 51 x 41cm (20 1/16 x 16 1/8in).
PROVENANCE: Private Collection Private Collection, Sydney
EXHIBITED: Just Brett Whiteley, Richard Martin Art, Sydney, 9-27 April 2011
Brett Whiteley had that wonderful talent of combining the sensuous line with the tactile, that quality in art that conjures up the three dimensional, the sense of touch. It enables the viewer to feel, as it were, as well as see the work of art. This is realised best in his paintings and drawings of the female nude, as in Nude in the Bath 1986. Here, as elsewhere, he creates a shallow and enclosed space for great effect. Not only is the figure kept in closeup, presented across the picture plane, but it also brings the viewer into a closer and more intimate position with the subject. Whiteley readily acknowledged the sensuality of his art.
'I know that in my work there is a certain sensuality, sexuality. There is a sort of addiction to the curve, to the carnal, to the rounded, even to lust, almost. I see sensuality, sexuality everywhere: in clouds, in mountains, in fruit ,0 and seemingly most of human motivation is caused by it.'1
He added, 'The nude has been predominant really ... a very major part of my work.' His wife Wendy was his muse and favourite model, inspiring some of the most erotic nudes ever painted or drawn by an Australian artist. Whiteley's obsession with the nude, especially the female torso, had its first flowerings in London in 1963 with the bathroom series. He exhibited the bathroom pictures at Marlborough New London Gallery in the spring of 1964. London's Tate Gallery bought the painting, Woman in a Bath II 1963, its second. Other notable paintings from the exhibition such as Woman in a Bath 4 1963 - 64 and Woman Washing Her Face 1964 found their way, via notable collections, into the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, respectively. On Whiteley's return to Australia in1965, his erogenous forms found their way on to the Australian beaches, as in The Beach 1966 (private collection). Icons of Australian beach culture, they are highly sybaritic in flavour and enjoyment of the visual and physical pleasures, indulging in all that the sun, sand, and surf had to offer. The nude also populated his interiors as Whiteley, in Blue Naked Studio 1981 (private collection, Sydney), venerated the subject in triptych form. Once the reserve of altar paintings, it is used in a celebratory tour de force of the nude in paintings within the painting, in prints, sculptural forms, and in the flesh. Employing all avenues at his command, the subject picture morphed into the languorously and seductively posed portrait, as in such works as The Letter (To Anna) 1980 - 81 and Portrait of Wendy 1984, both in private collections in Sydney and Melbourne. She is even in his Archibald winning painting, Self Portrait in the Studio 1976. In 1999 the posthumous exhibition, Brett Whiteley Nudes, held at Brett Whiteley Studio in Sydney, sinuous curves were also translated into sculptures Four Studies of Her 1975 - 80 in wood and marble and decorated ceramics thrown by Derek Smith Nude Vase, Nude Plate and Erotic Vase of 1984.
In Nude in Bath 1986 Whiteley engages intimate pinks and blues, the colour so often associated with the feminine, to present the voluptuous curves of the bending figure, contrasted against the cool whiteness of the bath. The steamy atmosphere and hot water filling up the bath provide a literal and metaphorical touch, with the added pun of getting into hot water.
David Thomas 1 Whiteley quoted in Don Featherstone's film A Difficult Pleasure, 1989, from Brett Whiteley Nudes, Brett Whiteley Studio, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 11 December 1999 - 2 April 2000, no page numbers