Boys Bathing in the Loire c.1901 signed with initials 'RWCB' lower left; inscribed 'Bathing Touraine' verso oil on canvas 65.0 x 54.0cm (25 9/16 x 21 1/4in).
PROVENANCE Australian Paintings and Prints, Christie's, Melbourne, 4 October 1977, lot 56, as 'Bathers' Private collection Thence by descent Private collection, Perth
EXHIBITED Exhibition of Pictures by Rupert Bunny, Athenaeum Hall, Melbourne, 24 July - 14 August 1911, cat. 33, as 'Boys Bathing in the Loir' [sic] Messrs. Lawson & Little, Sydney, 22 September 1911, catalogue untraced
LITERATURE 'The Art of Rupert Bunny', Sydney Morning Herald, 22 September 1911, p.78
Rupert Bunny painted landscapes throughout his life - from Dromana Foreshore c.1883 (private collection, Melbourne), through the north and south of France to the Melbourne Botanic Gardens series of c.1932, and views of Toorak, South Yarra and even Ballarat. He often included figures, peasants working the land or the leisured relaxing in gentle sunlight. The figure was central to his art and figure subjects predominated. In the landscape their occasional presence extended the humanising touch of worked fields and olive groves, the gardens of Paris being peopled with the fashionable. Water also played an important role, as in his early mythological subject paintings such as Sea Idyl c.1891 (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, gift of Alfred Felton) with their Mer folk and Tritons. Some of his finest works depict women beside still waters, bathing in the sea or at the bath house. Bunny's Après le Bain c.1904 (Musée d'Orsay, Paris) was his first work to be acquired for the French nation. Although Bunny painted a number of oil studies of boys bathing at Audierne in 1891, men and boys bathing are seldom found in his art apart from Mer folk already mentioned. Boys Bathing in the Loire c.1900 would seem to be unique.
About the turn of the century Bunny began painting landscapes in the region of Touraine in west central France. The presence of the River Loire and its tributaries no doubt influenced his choice of location. (Years later he and his wife were to settle at Les Landes in the Touraine.) As in the painting on offer, river scenes featured among these landscapes, Bunny delighting in capturing reflections in the waters and play of light. In 1911, Boys Bathing in the Loire was included in his first Australian solo show at the Athenaeum Hall, Melbourne, followed by Sydney. It was hailed by critics as 'the most interesting one-man show held in Melbourne for a long time', with 'landscapes of quite high distinction'. 1 In Sydney, one critic noted perceptively - 'A fondness for subdued lighting is characteristic of Mr. Bunny's work. Now and again, as in "A French Watering Place," or "Bathing in the Loire," his pictures are brightly, though never vividly, lit. But in these human figures are either absent, or treated simply as adjuncts to the scenery.' 2
Those familiar with Bunny's usual signature of 'Rupert C W Bunny' or his initials in monogram within a square may wonder at that inscribed on our painting. Bunny used several different signatures for his paintings at this time, including two different forms of his initials - 'RCWB and 'CRWB'. August Morning, France c.1901, for example, is signed 'RCWB', while Le Village c.1901, Newcastle Art Gallery, carries 'CRWB". 3
1. 'Mr. Bunny's Exhibition. A Modern Art Show', Argus, 24 July 1911, p.7; 'Mr. Bunny's Exhibition of Pictures' Age, 24 July 1911, p.11 2. 'The Art of Rupert Bunny', Sydney Morning Herald, 22 September 1911, p.78 3. August Morning, France c.1901, is illustrated in Clive Turnbull & Tristan Buesst, The Art of Rupert Bunny, Ure Smith, Sydney, 1948, pl.22. Bunny's birth certificate records his name as 'Charles Rupert Wulsten Bunny'. The artist's dislike of his first name is reflected in the different signatures he used over the years.