Mark Gertler (1891-1939) Musical Bather 137.7 x 84 cm. (54 1/4 x 33 in.) (unframed)

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Lot 15
Mark Gertler
Musical Bather 137.7 x 84 cm. (54 1/4 x 33 in.) (unframed)

Sold for £ 72,000 (US$ 93,975) inc. premium
Mark Gertler (1891-1939)
Musical Bather
signed and dated 'Mark Gertler/34' (lower right)
oil on canvas
137.7 x 84 cm. (54 1/4 x 33 in.)


  • Provenance:
    Sir Michael Sadler KCSI, CB, LLD
    His sale; Christie's, London, 25 May 1945, lot 145 (12 guineas) to the father of the present owner
    Thence by descent

    London, Leicester Galleries, 1934, no.101

    Sunday Times, 7 October 1934
    Anthony Blunt, Spectator, 19 October 1934, p.566
    John Woodeson, Mark Gertler : Biography of a Painter 1891-1939, Sidgwick & Jackson, London, 1972, p.388

    In the 1930s Gertler began to simplify and intensify his earlier vision of the female nude, allowing the exquisitely opulent nudes of the twenties with their masterful interplay of colour and flesh tones to give way to a greater emphasis on the solidity of form. These works, with their strong, monolithic forms indicate his move towards the monumental in art and have invited comparison with contemporary sculpture by Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore. (Gertler had been introduced to Moore in 1932, by fellow London Group member Bernard Adeney, and the two men met regularly during this period.) However, the most significant influence is undeniably French; specifically the neo-classical nudes and draped female figures of Picasso and Juan Gris from the early 1920s, which themselves recall the statues of classical antiquity with their immobility, impressive forms and massive limbs.

    Musical Bather, an imposing and vigorously painted oil, typical of Gertler's late style, is one of a series of works combining women (mostly nude) with musical instruments, typically the mandolin. Of these, the most notable is The Mandolinist (1934, Tate), a neo-classical draped figure, which specifically references Picasso's Seated Woman in a chemise (1923, Tate), and was painted in the same year, direct from the model in 57 one-hour sittings. It also features the same striking young red-haired model, Jean Kemp (later Hogh), a schoolfriend of Gertler’s former landlady's daughter.

    'She is certainly beautiful', Gertler wrote to his wife, Marjorie, after Jean first began to sit for him in May 1931, and between 1932-4, she became his pre-eminent model, sitting for more than a dozen studies, both nude and draped, and in a variety of poses, from full-length to head studies, usually seated and often in profile, as shown here. The large eyes, rigidly straight nose and brow and chiselled jaw, reminiscent of Juan Gris’s women, are recognisable in all the studies of Jean. She later commented, 'I knew very little about art, and was unflattered because none of his pictures looked to me, anything like me; but he used to explain patiently… that he painted me as he saw me, and that this would not necessarily be as I saw myself.' She also recalled Gertler’s very precise methods during these sittings: he began by posing the model – if necessary, positioning the limbs himself; then roughed in the figure in charcoal before adding general colour, only finally returning to fill in particular portions of the painting, such as a limb, the face or the hair.

    These late works are also remarkable for Gertler's broad handling of paint, applied in thick layers then scraped and moulded with a palette knife; it is an intense and highly tactile technique well-suited to Gertler's emotional temperament, but overlaid by the calmness of a unified design, also evident in his late still-lifes. Clive Bell, writing in the New Statesman & Nation in 1941, observed that '… if the Post-Impressionist exhibitions were the great liberating event in [Gertler’s] life, the next most important was the discovery of the palette knife'; and Quentin Bell went even further; seeing a specific connection between this technique and that which Gertler 'had so magnificently done in sculpture'.

    The warm palette is also typical of this period, and like the sail in the background (a motif Gertler also used in another pastel study of Jean of that title in the same year), evokes the spirit of the Mediterranean. But it was too rich for the taste of the young Anthony Blunt, who compared its 'too great warmth of colouring' and 'the richly whipped up 'impasto'' to that of Watts. Although the actual scene is probably imaginary, elements of the background, such as the paneled door and iron-work balcony, may have been modeled on the Gertlers' Hampstead drawing room. The door is similarly-placed in Gertler's neo-classical Portrait of the Artist's Wife (1933, Abbot Hall)) in pastel, which also employs a similar pink and blue palette; and both door and balcony recur in many of the studies of Jean. Gertler always painted the model direct from the life and originally Jean would have sat at Penn studio in Rudall Crescent, Hampstead, where Gertler painted for seventeen years, but after it was sold in the summer of 1932, she briefly posed in both Marjorie's bedroom and the drawing room of the Gertlers' home, until Mark took on a new studio at Well Walk, near the Heath that autumn.

    Exhibited in Gertler's 1934 exhibition at the Leicester Galleries, London, alongside several other examples of nudes with musical instruments (most of them also featuring Jean Kemp Hogh), the painting was sold direct to Professor Michael Sadler (1861-1943), former Vice-Chancellor of Leeds University (1911-23), and a vital supporter of the early British modernists. Sadler was also an important early patron of Gertler’s and continued to support him intermittently. Gertler's earlier portrait of him (commissioned by Sadler's cousin, T E Harvey in 1915) now hangs in the Leeds University Gallery.

    We are very grateful to Sarah MacDougall for writing this catalogue entry
    We are also grateful to Luke Gertler for his assistance in authenticating this work
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