Grant's preoccupation with the subject of a frieze of figures across a markedly horizontal canvas can be traced back to his earliest sketchbook drawings of circa 1906-07 when he studied drawings by Poussin in Paris during his student years at the Académe La Palette. This interest was given greater impetus by his experience of seeing Matisse's La danse in the artist's studio in 1911 and is manifest in his 1912 painting of women bathing in the sea (Hull, Ferens Art Gallery). During the 1920s and 1930s this theme was further developed in designs for mural decorations, for which the present painting is a preliminary study for a work dated circa 1930 (present whereabouts unknown) which shows the figures in slightly different poses and excludes the doorway visible at right in the study. The painting was first owned by T.A. Fennemore (Poplar Court, Twickenham), the secretary of the Society of Mural Painters and a figure greatly involved in British applied design between the wars. The painting appears to be based on studies of laundresses working near Cassis in the South of France where Grant and Vanessa Bell rented a house from 1927 onwards.
It has been suggested that the figures in the painting are based on Virginia Woolf (the figure on the far left) and Vanessa Bell (the kneeling figure beside her).
We are very grateful to Richard Shone for providing the catalogue entry for this lot and also for lots 26, 27 and 28.