The Bathers

Alison Watt


In Bathers Watt uses a representation of herself dressed in an old-fashioned bathing suit and surrounded by bathing paraphenalia to contrast unnervingly with the subcontext of a fear of water. Whilst the classically inspired frieze celebrates water, a Lily of the Valley hangs precariously from it's edge to suggest danger. The title of the work is taken from Jean-August-Dominique Ingres, whose work Watt admits has ahaunted her own since she first experienced it. The smoothness of the paint surface is a direct reference to the glass-like quality present in Ingres' work.

This painting dates from around the time that Alison Watt graduated from Glasgow School of Art. Like many Glasgow School painters, she has a strong sense of linear rhythm which is wonderfully evident in this painting with its rich variety of flowing lines: some convey the idea of immobility while others are fizzling with energy. 

  • Artist

    Alison Watt

  • Date


  • Medium

    Oil on canvas

  • Object number


  • Dimensions unframed

    120 × 120 cm

  • Dimensions framed

    143 × 143 × 4 cm

  • Marks

    Signed bottom left

  • Subject


  • Copyright

    Ⓒ The Artist


Alison Watt OBE FRSE RSA, born 1965

Alison Watt, the daughter of the artist James Watt, was born in Greenock, Renfrewshire, and studied in the painting Department of Glasgow School of Art from 1983 to 1988. As a fourth-year student she came to public prominence by winning the John Player Portrait Award, which led to a commission from the National Portrait Gallery to paint a portrait of the Queen Mother. Watt was part of an internationally successful generation of artists from the Glasgow School of Art, graduating alongside Christine Borland, Douglas Gordon and Roddy Buchanan. 

In 2000, Watt became the youngest artist to have a solo exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Shift, which saw a move away from the figurative to depicting twelve monumental works depicting swathes of fabric. She was shortlisted for The Jerwood Painting Prize in 2003. Watt then went on to be an associate artist at the National Gallery in London from 2006-8, which culminated in her exhibition, Phantom. The same year she was awarded an OBE. Watt's paintings are held in many public collections, including the Fleming Collection, the National Portrait Gallery, Aberdeen Art Gallery, the Scottish National Galleries, the Scottish Parliament Art Collection, the Freud Museum, the Arts Council Collection, the US Embassy, London, and Hall Art Collection, Dallas the Uffizi Gallery. In 2017 Watt was made a Fellow of The Royal Society of Edinburgh. She is represented by Parafin, London.