Bathroom series

Following their stay in Sigean, the Whiteleys travelled to Spain and New York before returning to London and settling into a new studio. The last Sigean abstractions that Whiteley worked on show an increasing preoccupation with the female torso, as though seen from a distance and in multiple forms dispersed across a shallow pictorial field. He then began his bathroom series, preserving the warm reds and honey colours of his abstractions while combining them with the acid blues and greens of the bathroom.

Whiteley started to focus on the single figure, the naked form of Wendy in the bath, capturing the tactility and tones of her flesh with an intimacy rarely equalled in his later paintings of the same subject. Something of the colours and broad shapes of Piero della Francesca’s works admired by Whiteley was retained, but there was a closer tradition of figurative painting making an impact on him, particularly through the work of Pierre Bonnard and Francis Bacon. Indeed, one of Bonnard’s most striking bath paintings was at the Tate Gallery and Whiteley was impressed by a reproduction of this he saw in the studio of William Scott.

Whiteley exhibited his bathroom pictures at the Marlborough New London Gallery in 1964, and one painting was purchased by the Tate Gallery, the second in just a few years. Most importantly, the bathroom series signified Whiteley’s breakthrough as a figure draughtsman and his desire to make eroticism more explicit.

In the group exhibition New Generation: 1964 at the Whitechapel Gallery, Whiteley exhibited alongside David Hockney, Michael Vaughan and Bridget Riley.

In the catalogue to this exhibition he wrote, 'All the paintings I have made in the last four years have been concerned one way or another with sex and the desire to record sensual behaviour.’