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
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.