Artist biography

Harold Gilman
Fig.1
Harold Gilman
Harold Gilman was one of the main instigators in the formation of the Camden Town Group (figs.1 and 2). As the art critic Frank Rutter later recalled, Gilman was ‘an incorruptible puritan, who would have no half-measures, no bargaining, but stood solid for root-and-branch reform’ and so ‘consistently advocated the formation of a new society’.1 Despite dying at the age of forty-three in 1919, his strong-minded and ardent personality, as revealingly displayed in Walter Sickert’s portrait of c.1912 (Tate T00164, fig.3), meant that he made a lasting impact on the British art world at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Harold John Wilde Gilman was born on 11 February 1876 at Rode in Somerset. He was the second of seven children of the curate of Rode, John Gilman (1840–1917), and Emily Purcell Gulliver (1850–1940). In 1890 Gilman began boarding at Tonbridge School, north of Royal Tunbridge Wells in Kent, after his father secured the living of the villages of Snargate with Snave in Romney Marsh, near the south-east coast (fig.4). It was at Tonbridge School that Gilman badly injured his hip in 1891, leaving him incapacitated for nearly three years, during which time he discovered his love of art.2
Harold Gilman 'Self-Portrait' c.1908–9
Fig.2
Harold Gilman
Self-Portrait c.1908–9
Art Gallery of New South Wales. Purchased 1946
Walter Richard Sickert 'Harold Gilman' c.1912
Fig.3
Walter Richard Sickert
Harold Gilman c.1912
Tate T00164
© Tate


After attending Oxford University for just a year in 1894–5, Gilman left either owing to ill-health or because he decided to tutor the children of an English family in Odessa, where he stayed for about a year.3 In 1896 he enrolled at Hastings School of Art in Sussex, and from 1897 to 1901 he attended the Slade School of Fine Art. His contemporaries there were Spencer Gore, Albert Rutherston, Wyndham Lewis, Augustus John and William Orpen, and he was taught by Frederick Brown, Philip Wilson Steer and Henry Tonks.

Early style and inspiration

Post-impressionist influence

The Camden Town Group and ‘Neo-Realism’

Memorials

Helena Bonett
October 2009

Notes