This painting shows the Chiswick Baths on a summer’s day. The Baths were constructed in Edensor Road by Chiswick Urban District Council in 1910. The project was intended to provide work for the unemployed. At first segregated sessions were provided for men and women bathers, with mixed bathing only at weekends. The Baths were one of several al fresco pools built in the Edwardian era and were a prototype for the classic Art Deco lidos that emerged in the 1930s. The innovative architecture of these early pools is seen in this work, with the double-decker changing cabins on the left-hand side of the pool and, at the end, the four-tiered diving board. The pools were exciting new places for the young to mingle.
The need for costly repairs led Hounslow Council to close the Baths in 1981 to considerable protests. Ten years later the indoor New Chiswick Pool was built through an agreement with the developer of adjoining housing.
Sir John Lavery, R.A., R.S.A., R.H.A. (1856-1941) was born in Belfast and studied art in Glasgow and Paris. He moved to London around 1890 and became friendly with James McNeill Whistler. After the First World War he became friendly with the Asquith family, was knighted and was elected to the Royal Academy. He painted his beautiful wife, Hazel, as an allegorical figure representing Ireland and she remained on Irish banknotes from 1928 to 1975.
Throughout Lavery’s career he had been drawn to painting contemporary leisure activities, perhaps most famously with his painting The Tennis Party of 1885 (Aberdeen Art Gallery), which emphatically announced Lavery’s modernist credentials. Lavery’s keen interest in swimming baths dates from the 1920s and his visits to Monte Carlo and Palm Beach in Florida. Chiswick Baths was only a short drive from Lavery’s studio in Cromwell Place and he seized the opportunity to capture the fun and pleasure of the pool with spontaneous, fluid and colourful brushwork. *
Acknowledgements: With thanks to Sotheby’s Auction House, Dr Liv Gibbs and Val Bott.
* Text on Lavery’s style is adapted from Sotheby’s catalogue where the painting was sold in December 2016 http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2016/victorian-pre-raphaelite-british-impressionist-l16133/lot.56.html