Jerwood Foundation

Christopher Wood (1901-1930)

The Bather, circa 1925-1926

  • Details

    Out of Copyright

  • Medium

    oil on canvas

  • Dimensions

    64.2 X 81.3 cm (251/4 X 32in.)

  • Provenance

    Probably, Dr Helmut Lindley.
    with Austin Desmond, where purchased in November 1993.

  • Exhibited

    Probably, London, Redfern Gallery, New Burlington Galleries, Christopher Wood, Exhibition of Complete Works, March - April 1938, no. 43 (despite different dimensions: 28 ½ x 19 ½ in.).
    Probably, London, Redfern Gallery, Christopher Wood, the First Retrospective Exhibition Since 1938, April - May 1959, no. 33 (lent by Dr Helmut Lindley).
    Probably, London, Redfern Gallery, Christopher Wood 1901-1930, November 1965, no. 34 (lent by Dr Helmut Lindley).
    London, Austin Desmond, 1988.

  • Literature

    E. Newton, Christopher Wood 1901-1930 London, 1938, p. 66, no. 134.
    R. Ingleby, Christopher Wood, An English Painter, London, 1995, pl. 6 where identified as ‘The Bather, 1925’.
    M. Sturgiss, Jerwood, The Foundation and the Founders Norwich, 2009, illustrated pp.54-55.
    Collection Catalogue, Jerwood Collection, London 2012 p.35. Illustrated p.10.

  • On Display

    Jerwood Gallery Hastings (Room 4)

Following Christopher Wood’s tragic death in 1930, an ‘Exhibition of Complete Works’ was held at the Redfern Gallery in 1938. The Bather was probably the painting of 1926 listed as no. 43 in the catalogue, and as no. 134 in Eric Newton’s accompanying text.

Both 1925 and 1926 were remarkable years for Wood, particularly considering his youth. He travelled to different coasts and met influential painters that contrasted almost as much as the climate and topography of their lands. In 1925 he met Picasso in Paris then visited Marseilles and Monte Carlo. The following year Wood travelled to Cornwall and visited the Isles of Scilly and Penzance with his friend Antonio Gandarillas, the Chilean diplomat, before reaching St Ives in September where he stayed on alone until October. That year he met Ben and Winifred Nicholson who were deeply connected to St Ives. He wrote, ‘Cornwall is beautiful, rather austere, but I think that if I am here long enough I shall paint good things’ (see. R. Ingleby, Christopher Wood, An English Painter, London, 1995, p. 132).

The figure in The Bather is remarkably similar in pose and attire to that on the left hand side of a six-panelled screen, Beach Scene with Bathers, Pier and Ships which Wood painted in 1925. The model here has fairer hair than that in the screen composition, and remains unidentified but could possibly be Jeanne Bourgoint, whom Wood met through his friend Jean Cocteau. ‘Slim, short-haired and boyish … Bourgoint became Wood’s model and, with these fashionable outfits peeled away, the subject of some of his best pictures of the female nude. She was also the subject of his first enduring heterosexual relationship…’ (see R. Ingleby, op cit., pp. 119-121). In 1927 Wood painted another work entitled The Bather, which was of a male figure, in a similar pose, mirroring the woman captured here.

Continuing his friendship with Ben and Winifred Nicholson he joined the 7 and 5 Society and shared his first major exhibition at the Beaux Arts Gallery in 1927 with them. He only had one solo show during his lifetime, which was at Tooth's gallery in 1929.

Like China Dogs in a St Ives Window painted the same year, The Bather also features a lighthouse, two years before Wood and Ben Nicholson ‘discovered’ the naive fisherman-artist, Alfred Wallis who made such frequent use of this motif.

Wood was heavily addicted to Opium during his life and many of his works have a dream-like quality. Eric Newton comments, ‘His best paintings are radiant and faintly sinister. Fra Angelico and El Greco seem, for once to have met on common ground. There is an unclouded purity, at times a rapture, in his pictures, but there is also a thunderstorm somewhere in the neighbourhood. Sometimes it is the inky blue-black of the sea, sometimes a leaden sky, more often a series of sinister shapes that cannot be analysed, that set the mood’ (see E. Newton, Christopher Wood: His life and work, London, 1959, p. 16)

 Find out more about The Bather in the Stories Behind the Collection series of short films, available on the Jerwood Gallery channel


Born in Knowsley, near Liverpool, Chrisopher ‘Kit’ Wood began to draw at the age of fourteen, when he was recovering from polio. Although Wood enrolled in an architecture course at Liverpool University (1919), he moved to London before he had completed the first year. At the invitation of the French collector, Alphonse Kahn, he travelled to Paris, where he studied at the Académie Julian (1921). In Paris Wood met and befriended a number of influential people, including the Chilean diplomat, Antonio Gandarillas, Picasso and Jean Cocteau, who introduced Wood to opium.

1926 was a key year in Wood’s development as, in the autumn, he travelled to St Ives and also met Ben and Winifred Nicholson in London. The same year he became a member of the London Group and also the Seven and Five Society. The following year Wood’s work was shown for the first time in London, in a joint exhibition with Ben Nicholson and William Staite Murray at the Beaux Arts Gallery. Another important influence fed into Wood’s work when he encountered the painter Alfred Wallis on a trip to St Ives with Ben Nicholson. His first solo exhibition was held at Tooth’s Gallery, London (1929) and later key shows include Wertheim Gallery, London (1931) and Redfern Gallery, London (1938). Tragically Wood died in 1930 when he threw himself under a train at Salisbury station.