The Shower 1984 signed 'brett Whiteley' lower right; inscribed 'Study For / 'The Shower' (Blue Tiles / 24/2/84 / Preliminary for much / bigger pic.' On verso oil on canvas on board 60.0 x 50.0cm (23 5/8 x 19 11/16in).
PROVENANCE Australian Galleries, Melbourne Private collection, Queensland Australian and International Fine Art, Deutscher Menzies, Melbourne, 1 May 2002, lot 25 Private collection, Sydney
EXHIBITED An Exhibition by Brett Whiteley: Eden and Eve, Australian Galleries, Melbourne, 11-28 July 1984, cat. No. 35 (illus.)
When Pygmalion carved Galatea out of marble, he made her so beautiful that he fell uncontrollably in love with her. The gods, in their beneficence, had pity on him and granted her life. Such is the potency of the image, especially in its human form, which has been revered throughout the ages as one of the most beautiful achievements of creation. William Blake in one of his Songs of Innocence, wrote of 'the human form divine'. 1 And Kenneth Clark in his book The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form, reminds us
Before the Crucifixion of Michelangelo we remember that the nude is, after all, the most serious of all subjects in art; and that it was not an advocate of paganism who wrote, "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us ... full of grace and truth.' 2
In such ways each age reflects its own times and each artist his or her individuality through the presentation of the figure as an ancient fertility cult figure, or goddess of incomparable and ideal beauty, to figures of piety or passion. Brett Whiteley was a master of the latter, finding in the nude female form endless opportunities to indulge in the sybaritic - the sheer pleasure of physical contact and procreation, sun baking on the beaches of Sydney, and harmonies of form intricate in their curves and voluptuous crescents. His first wife Wendy was his muse, their joint attributes combining to create some of the most seductive images in Australian art.
The Shower 1984 is Whiteley at his classic best. While being also a precursor to Nude in Bath 1986 (Bonhams, Sydney, 22 August 2011, lot 26), and leading on to the larger painting of the same subject, it calls upon similar earlier images. The pose occurs as a theme throughout his art. Elements are even found in his abstract paintings of the beginning of the sixties, as in Untitled Painting II 1961 (Art Gallery of New South Wales), then given more figurative form in the Bathroom series of 1962-64 inspired by Pierre Bonnard's Baignoire and the influence of Francis Bacon. Woman in a Bath II 1963 was purchased by London's Tate Gallery, and other splendid examples are in other major collections. By now, the female torso had become one of Whiteley's chief preoccupations. As Barry Pearce observed in the 1995 retrospective exhibition catalogue 'Whiteley started to focus on the single figure, the naked form of Wendy in the bath, capturing the tactility and tones of her flesh with an intimacy rarely equalled in his later paintings of the same subject.' 3 Of Whiteley, he quoted, ' "All the paintings I have made in the last four years have been concerned one way or another with sex and the desire to record sensual behaviour." ' 4 The striking similarity of some of these paintings is seen in Wendy Under the Shower c.1964 (private collection) differing from the painting on offer in changes of figure and the colour of background tiles.5 In the latter, the flesh tones and curves are contrasted with the cool blue and geometry of the tiles. The roundly pendulous buttocks echo in the droplets of water, the water itself inviting the eye to enjoy its lascivious journey around and down the figure. The back view also evokes thoughts of a curvaceous musical instrument to be played upon for erotic delight, with the shower's steamy water a metaphor of the heat of passion. As Janet Hawley once summed up Whiteley's art, 'He is addicted to the curve, the sensual, the female nude, the beautiful (which he violates to get more power into it) and to the colour ultramarine blue.' 6
1 The Divine Image, 11, The Poetical Works of William Blake, John Sampson ed., Oxford University Press, 1952, p.75
2. Kenneth Clark, The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form, Princeton University Press, 1990, p.29
3. Barry Pearce, Brett Whiteley: Art & Life, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1995, p.74
4. Brett Whiteley quoted in Pearce, ibid
5. Kathie Sutherland, Brett Whiteley: A Sensual Line 1957-67, Macmillan Art Publishing, Melbourne, 2010, cat.MM3, illustrated p.279
6. Janet Hawley, ''Brett Whiteley: The Art of the Warrior', Age, Melbourne, Good Weekend Magazine, 17 February 1990,p.22
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