LITERATURE: Judith Collins, Eric Gill, The Sculpture, Herbert Press, London, 2006, cat.no.140, p.137, listed as whereabouts unknown (sketch for design ill.b&w)
This newly discovered figure of a female nude is one of a small but delightful group of stone carvings of this subject that Gill carved for his own pleasure. Woman Bending/Bath Mat was only known through a written entry in Gill's work ledgers, accompanied by a quick ink sketch (see Fig. 1). This shows a nude woman bending over, touching the floor in front of her with her fingers. Her long blonde hair hangs down from her head and also touches the floor. When he carved the figure, Gill changed the position of her arms and hands, and in doing so, enhanced the rhythms of the sculpture.
The pose of a nude woman bending over, revealing her ample buttocks, is found in two other small carvings by Gill, The Rower, 1912 and Leda and the Swan, 1925. Woman Bending/Bath Mat is closely related to two contemporary figures called The Splits, carved between May and October 1923, which depict well-endowed females in acrobatic poses, one of which uses hair as a support as here. The thickset nature of this figure and those of The Splits lead one to believe that no live model was used for the pose; Gill's sisters Angela and Gladys, and his daughter Petra, often posed nude for him, but their figures were more svelt.
The first time that Gill carved a nude female figure was in 1910, and this was a large and confrontational stone relief called A Roland for an Oliver, with painted yellow hair, blue eyes, and red nipples, colourations which enraged Edwardian sensibilities. Gill gave all his uncommissioned female nudes curvaceous bodies and abundant hair. It seems he was impressed by the example of the Pre-Raphaelite painters who gave their female figures luxuriant tresses, which was read as conveying erotic implications.
Gill sent Woman Bending/Bath Mat to the Goupil Gallery Autumn Salon in October 1923, where it was priced at £15, but it did not sell. He then recorded in his work ledgers that he sold this work in exchange for a Head of a Girl by his great friend and artist David Jones, but he does not name the purchaser.
We are grateful to Dr Judith Collins for compiling this catalogue entry.