This is the only known oil painting of Dorelia in the nude. It relates in subject to a series of pencil and ink studies of Bathers, circa 1904-08, in which there is a watercolour titled By the Lakeside featuring a naked Dorelia standing in shallow water with a group of women and children (A.D. Fraser Jenkins, exhibition catalogue, Augustus John: Studies for Compositions, Cardiff, National Museum of Wales, 1978, no. 43, illustrated). The watercolour is dated 1907, when the family spent the summer on the Normandy coast. Augustus liked to experiment with landscape in his figure compositions, placing his Bathers amongst imaginary lakes and mountains, or on a beach between steep rocks. The foreground of the present work may be partly imagined but the distant cliff appears to have been observed from life and would not be out of place on the Normandy coast.
Dorelia was reluctant to pose nude for Augustus, and for years Dorelia in a Rockpool was kept hidden in the artist’s studio at Fryern Court. Her modesty is apparent: arm held across her breast, cloth tied at the hip, her face in shadow as she looks down to take a step forward in the water. She holds out her left arm for balance, her unfinished hand giving the impression of movement. It is a tender scene, made atmospheric by contrasting light: on the far horizon the strip of turquoise sea and vivid green cliff top suggest a summer day, while the sky and the rocky cliff sheltering the pool appear to be painted in fading light.
The dimensions of the work are similar to Dorelia standing before a Fence, circa 1905 (Tate, London) and Dorelia in the Garden at Alderney Manor, circa 1911 (National Museum of Wales, Cardiff).
We are very grateful to Rebecca John for preparing this catalogue entry.