The Bather1917 by Vlaho Bukovac

27 Mar 2007
This recently rediscovered painting is recorded in a black and white photograph in the archive of Vlaho Bukovac; the back of the photo is inscribed 'U prirodi (In the landscape) Praha 1917'.... This late work revisits a subject that inspired Bukovac throughout his career - that of the female nude - but the treatment differs from his salon pieces of the late 19th Century. Here we see the influence of Divisionism in the freer handling of the brushwork and the play of light on the model's body as it is caught in the pink rays of the late afternoon sun.

Vlaho Bukovac studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and worked in Paris where he earned a reputation as a painter of female nudes, and in the 1880s he formed a strong association with England which continued for much of his life. This began when the London dealers Vicars Brothers bought his Salon exhibit The White Slave in 1884 and showed it in London, describing it as ‘the picture which created so great a sensation in Paris last season’. They charged a shilling admission to see the painting in the red velvet splendor of their basement room in the gallery just off Piccadilly, and many were happy to pay.

Vicars subsequently sold The White Slave to the collector, philanthropist and industrial magnate Samson Fox of Harrogate (a forbear of the Fox acting family). He was to acquire many more works by Bukovac, and together with his friend and fellow industrialist Richard LeDoux of Liverpool, became one of Bukovac’s most significant patrons. The painter came often to England from Paris to stay with the two families, and was accepted into their social circle. Through them further commissions followed and in the closing years of the century he enjoyed considerable public success.

Their acquisitions were varied; Bukovac painted a number of large-scale biblical subjects and Fox is know to have bought the massive canvas Suffer the Little Children, a work which illustrates the extent to which Bukovac was influenced by the French academic tradition of Bouguereau and his circle. Photographs of the interiors of Fox’s and LeDoux’s homes show many works by Bukovac, and while some are accounted for today, the whereabouts of others remains unknown. In 1893 Bukovac left Paris for good and returned to his homeland before taking up residence in Prague where he taught, but he continued to visit England until shortly before the outbreak of the First World War. It was in Prague that the current work was painted.

Bukovac was the subject of an exhibition, Searching for Blaise, Vlaho Bukovac and his Northern Patrons, which took place at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, 12 November 2005 - 3 January 2006, the Mercer Art Gallery, Harrogate 14 January – 19 March 2006 and Bonhams, London, 23 – 29 March 2006. A large-scale nude study by Bukovac of 1887 was sold in these rooms in June 2006 for a world auction record price of £85,000.
(This painting sold for £ 60,000 in 2007)
Click to select the cover image for this artwork.
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Tags: nude female