Erotic depictions of women in drawing, painting, sculpture and photography from the dawn of man to the present.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Model Venus: Ethel Warwick in Preparing for the Bath by John William Godward

Godward, Preparing for the Bath (1900)

This painting by classicist painter JW Godward also goes under the names The Toilet and The Toilette.  It is set in the tepidarium of a Roman bath and some of the fixtures seen in the painting, such as the arched porphyry carvings on the wall,  are copied from originals found in Pompeii.

Godward, Preparing for the Bath (study) (1900)

Some commentators have wondered if Godward originally intended the figure to be naked, as seen in this study for the painting, but Godward often added drapery to his naked figures afterwards.  It is arguable, too, that his draped figures were more successful than his nudes and this painting is one of his greatest masterpieces.

Draper, The Lament for Icarus (1898)

The splendidly proportioned model for this painting was Ethel Warwick, who took over as Godward's principal model from the Pettigrew sisters.  Warwick was born in Hardingstone, Northampstonshire in 1882 but was brought up in Hampstead, London and, unlike most of the the other models we have looked at here, was an art student herself.  She studied at the London Polytechnic and the Black School of Art in Camden and lived, like most of the other figures we have looked at in our previous posts, in West Kensington, where there was a large artistic community.  She started modelling to help pay for her studies and the first artist to use her extensively was Herbert Draper, whose paintings we have looked at in detail, here and here. Draper probably met her when she was modelling at the Lower School of the Royal Academy, where she started posing as a sixteen year old from early 1898, as he inevitably chose his models from there.   She can be seen in Draper's picture The Lament for Icarus, supporting the fallen Icarus' body.

Draper, Ethel

Draper regarded Ethel highly and, unusually, drew a portrait of her, something he did not habitually do of his models.  Like most artists of the time they often used different parts of different models' bodies to produce one finished figure, so to single out Ethel like this was a particular accolade.

Steer, Hydrangeas (1901)

Another artist who drew Ethel was Philip Wilson Steer, who, as we have seen, used Rose Pettigrew in a slightly earlier period, before the latter's marriage.  Ethel is the subject of Steer's Hydrangeas, where she is seen teasing Steer's cat with a string of pearls.  

Steer, Convalescent (1898)

Steer, Ethel Warwick (1901)

She had something of a teasing relationship with Steer too, writing him flirty little verses:

Oh poor old W.S.,
Your thoughts I'd like to guess,
You are so deep,
But ere you sleep,
You, like us, undress.

Steer caught her refined beauty in a number of portraits.  Probably referring to the fact that she was a sought after model she wrote in one of Steer's sketch books: "Chase me boys".

 Whistler, Ethel Warwick asleep on a sofa (1900)

Whistler, Ethel Warwick holding an apple (1900)

One who would, most probably, have been interested in chasing her was James McNeil Whistler who produced a couple of sensuous nudes of her.  Not averse to having flings with his models he was particularly upset when she got married.  Whistler was impressed enough with her painting to urge her to make a career as an artist.

Godward, Ethel Warwick (1898)

It was Godward who used her most as a model, however.  His first painting of her was a contemporary conventional portrait and her intelligent beauty shines from it. 

Godward, Study of a head in drapery, Miss Ethel Warwick (1898)

He soon had her dressed up as one of his classical maidens however, with this more typical portrait appearing the same year.  This painting sold this summer for £221,000.  

The Delphic Oracle (1899)

She featured in  a number of his classical paintings from 1898 to 1900, particularly when he discovered that she had no reservations about posing nude whatsoever.  In fact, at the turn of the century, the role of artist's model had lost a lot of its stigma.  Even middle class women were tempted by the money (the Royal Academy paying particularly well) and the social opportunities linked with the artists' life style.

Sambourne, Ethel Warwick at the Camera Club (1900)

As we have seen, cartoonist and photographer, Edward Linley Sambourne used some of the top artists' models of the time for his own studies and he photographed Ethel Warwick in 1900 and 1901.

Here Sambourne has photographed Warwick (right) with another young Royal Academy model, Mable Hall, who was seventeen (just a year younger than Warwick) when Sambourne took this photograph of them in July 1900.

Sambourne, Ethel Warwick

Sambourne being Sambourne, he got the still teenage Ethel to pose naked, capturing her statuesque figure for posterity.

Usually, at this point in their stories, our models disappear into obscurity or marriage.  Not surprisingly, marriage brought an end to the nude modelling careers of most women.  Ethel Warwick was a more ambitious woman, however.  Realising that, despite Whistler's encouragement, she couldn't earn a living as an artist she took up a friend's suggestion of studying acting.  She attended the drama school of well-known actor Henry Neville (1837-1910) in Oxford Street.  In 1900 she made her stage debut in The Corsican Brothers at the Grande Theatre, Fulham.  She was terrified, as she hadn't so much as had a walk on part before and she had dialogue from the start.  Neville, who was with her backstage, patted her on the back and just told her to remember her first line. As that line was "courage, courage!" she, indeed, plucked up her courage and was alright as soon as she stepped out onto the stage.

Ethel Warwick (1901)

Her career move was a success and her much reduced modelling work had to fit around her touring as an actress.  By 1901 The Sketch, underneath this fetching portrait, described her as "a clever young actress who has been playing and understudying at Her Majesty's Theatre".  She had got a two year engagement at Her Majesty's, on Haymarket, through Neville's contacts with Herbert Beerbohn Tree (1852-1917) (one of whose illegitimate children was film director Carol (The Third Man) Reed), the actor who had become the manager of Her Majesty's in 1887.  Tree offered to take her on because she "walked well".  In her first role at Her Majesty's in Herod, she only had one line but acted as understudy to lead actress Frances Dillon.  Three days into the part Dillon was taken ill and Warwick had to understudy, even though she hadn't read the part but had only watched Dillon on stage.  Tree was delighted with the way she handled the part and from then on got leading roles, including Shakespeare comedies.

In 1902 she appeared in the melodrama Heard at the Telephone at Wyndham's Theatre.  An artist's impression of the play by top illustrator Fred Pegram, appeared in the relatively new illustrated weekly The Sphere, a rival to The Illustrated London News.  She was now taking female lead roles after less than two years in the business.

Here she is in a magazine in May 1902, still just nineteen years old.  Of course her looks can't have exactly hindered her either.

With Arthur Wotner as Ben Hur (1902)

In 1902 she took over the role of Iras in the epic production of Ben-Hur, which had been taking in so much money that other theatres temporarily shut down until the production closed, as they couldn't compete.

She was always recognised for her beauty as well as her acting, with The Sketch in 1904 featuring her as a beauty of the stage and noting she was on tour in the provinces.

Here she is in 1905.  She toured doing a number of  mainly Shakespearean parts, which she said were her favourite, especially the role of Juliet.

Ethel in 1906

In 1906 she married a fellow actor, Edmund Waller.   Waller's father, who was born in Spain, was also an actor as well as a theatrical producer.  Waller's mother was also an actress and took Ethel on tour with her.

In 1907 she toured abroad for the first time, visiting South Africa with the actor William Haviland (1860-1917).  By this time she was well known enough to be featured on cigarette cards and collectable postcards. which were bought by her increasing number of fans.

In 1909 she posed for the photographer Lallie (Charlotte) Charles (1869-1919).  Irish born Charles had opened her Regent's Park studio in 1896 and in the first decade of the twentieth century she and her sister Rita were the most successful commercial portraitists in London.  By the time she took Ethel's photograph she had moved her studios from her home in Regent's Park to the swankier locale of Curzon Street in Mayfair.

Ethel in 1910

Holding it all in in  a pre-Great War corset

In 1910 she undertook a tour of Australia and enjoyed the space in the cities, complaining that London had got more and more built up and crowded.  She also enjoyed the weather and said that her weight had increased from nine stone four pounds to ten stone ten pounds while she was there, which she obviously thought was a good thing. 

On their return from Australia Ethel and her husband took over the management of the Queen's Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue, which had only first opened three years previously.  Ethel was described as the youngest manageress in London.  She had a personal hit as manager and actress in 1912 in a revival of the play Zaza, about a prostitute who becomes a musical hall performer and the mistress of a married man.   Ethel was embraced by Sarah Bernhardt after one performance, so impressed was she with her characterisation.

In 1913 Ethel and her husband were back touring in Australia but things started to go wrong for the couple and by 1914, whilst still touring in Adelaide, Ethel had issued a petition for restitution of conjugal rights on her husband.  This was an action issued by someone on their spouse who had been living apart from them for no justifiable reason.  It enabled the establishment of judicial separation which, if coupled with the husband's adultery, enabled the wife to obtain an immediate divorce and this is what happened in 1915.

Ethel's career continued, however and in 1916 she appeared in her first motion picture, The Bigamist.  She went on to make another eight films, mostly in the early nineteen thirties.  The majority of her work was on the stage and particularly in Shakespeare.  In 1920 she played Lady Macbeth, as well as a number of other leading roles in Stratford-upon-Avon as part of what would become, in 1924, the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Here we have a glamorous shot of Ethel at the age of thirty-eight, by the Bassano photographic studio in 1924.

She lived a very glamorous life which she couldn't really afford and went bankrupt in 1923 but continued to act in Shakespeare at Stratford into the nineteen thirties.

She died in a nursing home in Bognor Regis in September 1951, just short of her sixty-ninth birthday.  An inspiration to some of the top late Victorian artists, a darling of postcard manufacturers and a painter, poet, actress and theatrical manager.  She was certainly the most successful of the Victorian models we have looked at in this short series and, we think, the most beautiful. 


  1. As an artist who regularlypaints and draws the female myself, I would like to say how much I like and appreciate your posts on Victorian / Edwardian models. Like all your posts it must require a considerable amount of research. I visited the Lindley Sambourne house many years ago where some pictures of a young nude girl Dorothy were still hanging in the bathroom. To our eyes she would now be clearly under the legal age for such pictures, I wonder if they are still there? There are illustrations of her in a Tate catalogue of an exhibition of the Victorian nude in art called Exposed.

    1. I went to the Sambourne house recently and they have been removed.