Robert BevanHaze over the Valley c.1913

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Artwork details

Artist
Robert Bevan (1865‑1925)
Title
Haze over the Valley
Date c.1913
MediumOil paint on canvas
Dimensionssupport: 432 x 533 mm frame: 639 x 737 x 105 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1959
Reference
T00282
Not on display

Catalogue entry

Bevan’s painting shows the view north from the Blackdown Hills on the Devon and Somerset border. It was made when the artist was staying at his friend’s farm, Applehayes, with other Camden Town Group artists. The geometric pattern of cottages and pale grid of fields fading into the horizon are the only indication of human intervention in the landscape. Painted in a heavy impasto, the work is striking for its colour, design and rhythm rather than traditional elements of the picturesque.
Robert Bevan 1865–1925
Haze over the Valley
c.1913
Oil paint on canvas
432 x 533 mm
Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1959
T00282

Entry

Background

Bevan painted Haze over the Valley while he was staying at Applehayes, a farm near Clayhidon in the Blackdown Hills in Devon, close to the border with Somerset.1 Here he was the guest of Harold Bertram Harrison (1855–1924), a landowner, amateur artist and writer. Born at Waterhouse, a country house at Monkton Combe near Bath, Harrison spent his working life until the age of forty-one with his brother on the family ranch, La Isleta, in Argentina. When he returned to England, however, Harrison pursued his interests in art, and in 1896 enrolled at the Slade. Studying there until 1898 his fellow students included Spencer Gore, who started the same year, Harold Gilman and Gwen and Augustus John. Harrison acquired the Applehayes estate in 1909 and by buying the adjacent land of Barn Farm, Little Garlandhayes and Lears Farm he considerably extended his holding to around 300 acres. He built a series of seven trout ponds, fed by a tributary of the River Culm, and rode to hounds as well as farming the estate. Applehayes itself was a traditional Devon longhouse, which dated back to around 1550, but Harrison added a special studio wing for his artist guests, that included two bachelor bedrooms. Harrison’s drawing teacher at the Slade had been Henry Tonks (1862–1937), and he evidently maintained their friendship for, when he moved to Applehayes, he sought his advice as to whom among the younger generation of artists he might entertain there.2
Gore was the first of the future Camden Town Group artists to visit, in 1909, and it seems evident that they were already on friendly terms (he started the same year at the Slade as Harrison). Their friendship evidently flourished after this first visit, and when the Gores’ first child Elizabeth was born in 1912 they chose Harrison to be her godfather. When Harrison died in 1924 he bequeathed the contents of his apartment at 1 Stanhope Gardens in South Kensington to Gore’s widow Mollie, and left £1,000 to his godchild. Gore returned to Applehayes in 1910, and again in 1913, this time joining Bevan and Charles Ginner. Bevan himself stayed with Harrison for the first time in 1912, in the company of Ginner (fig.1), and brought his wife Stanislawa de Karlowska, who accompanied him there in 1913 and on his last visit in 1915. Gilman appears never to have visited Applehayes. Other much younger painters Harrison entertained included Mark Gertler (1891–1939), William Roberts (1895–1980) and Stanley Spencer (1891–1959). ‘In the summer of 1911’, Roberts wrote,
three Slade students were invited to stay a month, alternately ... Gertler, the first to go, chose July; when his month ended, Spencer followed, in August; while I, the last on the list had September. A country mansion would well describe Harrison’s place with its stables for hunters, and numerous domestic staff. Harrison had his brother and two nephews staying with him.3
Charles Ginner 'Landscape with Farmhouses' 1912–13
Fig.1
Charles Ginner
Landscape with Farmhouses 1912–13
© Estate of Charles Ginner Photo © Manchester City Galleries
Spencer went to Harrison’s on the advice of Tonks, who apparently believed it would be good for him, as he had previously never stayed a night away from home. At the time, Spencer wrote back enthusiastically about Harrison to his brothers Gilbert and Sydney: ‘This man is a farmer, a writer, a keen follower of art ... I like him ... Of course, I can walk well-nigh everywhere, because well-nigh everywhere is his ... Nobody about! Old everything! Old house, with old fireplaces, old beams.’4 Later, Spencer seems to have felt the experience affected him negatively, writing that he had been bullied into making the visit and ‘I felt when I got back that I had lost my caste; my work was never the same’.5 Spencer’s mention of ‘caste’ might indicate he felt some social unease in this gentrified environment that was unlike his home life in Cookham, but his work remained the same; he was exaggerating.

Subject and style

In Haze over the Valley Bevan showed the view looking north from a ridge near Applehayes, and looking down onto some buildings known as Dunn’s Cottages, where Harrison’s chauffeur lived. It was a spot to which Bevan returned repeatedly, and there are a number of pictures of the view. The closest in standpoint and composition is A Devonshire Valley 1913 (fig.2), while Little Oak Tree 1915 (King George VI Art Gallery, Port Elizabeth, South Africa),6 originally titled The Back of Dunn’s Cottage, views the scene from a point slightly further to the right than the Tate picture. Bevan also painted the houses from down on the road below in Dunn’s Cottage 1915 (fig.3), a close-up view with a man forking over a dung heap in the foreground, and another view from the road looking back, Dunn’s Cottage, near Applehayes 1915 (private collection).7
Robert Bevan 'A Devonshire Valley' 1913
Fig.2
Robert Bevan
A Devonshire Valley 1913
Photo © Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter, UK / The Bridgeman Art Library
Robert Bevan 'Dunn’s Cottage' 1915
Fig.3
Robert Bevan
Dunn’s Cottage 1915
Photo © Leeds Museums and Galleries (City Art Gallery) UK / The Bridgeman Art Library


There are composition sketches for Dunn’s Cottage in one of Bevan’s unfoliated sketchbooks in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford,8 and it is likely that Haze over the Valley was similarly based on a drawing made on the spot and then painted away from the scene, perhaps in the studio at Applehayes. In the last fifteen years of his life Bevan painted numerous pictures which show an assimilation of buildings into the landscape. Usually these are scenes without figures, in which a human presence is denoted only by the existence of houses or farm buildings, and the agricultural taming and moulding of the landscape itself. In Haze over the Valley, as in other landscapes, Bevan consciously simplified the forms. The geometric planes of the buildings act as a satisfying foil to the looser irregular rhythm of the trees and vegetation, whilst echoing the grid of fields in the background. With this lack of scenic elements, spectacular natural features, or artificially constructed rustic incident, Bevan rejected traditional notions of picturesque landscape painting. It suggests that while he was recording directly his immediate surroundings, he was also using them to create an image which relied on colour, design and rhythm for its impact. Richly painted, the colours have been applied thickly and have a pronounced, mosaic-like impasto. Bevan has grouped his colours together, but there are also sudden jumps out of harmony, such as on the top of the roof where the sunlight catches it. Although each area of colour is modulated, the colours come together to form flat areas of an almost post-cubist character, creating an abstract design of their own, separate to their subject. But unlike Fauve painting where each part of the picture is painted with equal colour value, Bevan has employed aerial perspective, where the colours fade towards the background to suggest distance and a sense of recession toward the horizon.
The prevalent combination of mauve and green may be due to the influence of Gore, who used the pairing extensively in urban scenes around this time, such as, for instance, Houghton Place 1912 (Tate N03839) and The Fig Tree 1912 (Tate T00028) and Letchworth landscapes such as The Cinder Path 1912 (Tate T01960). Bevan stayed at Applehayes at the same time as Gore on his 1913 visit, when Haze over the Valley was most likely to have been painted. Increasingly, the two painters came to share stylistic affinities, of colouring and most closely in their stylisation of landscape forms. This reached its strongest expression in Gore’s work in his series of pictures of Letchworth in 1912, where hedges, trees and clouds are all drawn with exaggerated straight or jagged edges. Bevan owned a landscape by Gore, Croft’s Lane, Letchworth 1912 (private collection),9 and it appears that he may have been influenced by Gore’s adoption of this style of drawing. However, Bevan had an existing preoccupation with the interdependent relationship of forms and their structure. This stylistic development in his work towards a strengthening of pattern was a natural and logical progression, and its roots are felt in pictures such as Horse Sale at the Barbican 1912 (Tate N04750) in the pattern-making of the crowd of figures. While this development was no doubt influenced partly by Gore, it was also something which must be attributable to Bevan seeing works by Paul Cézanne in London at Roger Fry’s post-impressionist exhibitions of 1910 and 1912, and on his visits to Paris en route to Poland.
When Bevan visited Applehayes the region was still a very traditional agricultural society. Devon and Somerset were often popularly portrayed as being quintessentially English, where the impact of modern life, industrialisation, urban expansion, technology and the like were not so strongly felt. As an agrarian society it was a region which represented for the Edwardian imagination a link to a mythologised, traditional past, which seemed to embody elements of English identity connected with land and its bountiful cultivation, alongside a sense of the wildness of the natural landscape. It was certainly true that the region was less touched by modernity, and after the end of the First World War it was exactly this attribute that started a boom in tourism which has continued to this day, and which essentially compromised the reality of the West of England being a haven of isolation from the modern world.10 Bevan may well have felt a certain attraction to the rolling landscape of the Blackdown Hills and its farms, perhaps making comparisons with the Sussex downland of his youth. On one level Bevan was following a traditional genre of landscape painting in Haze over the Valley. But there seems an extra radicalism to painting the landscape in such a stylised way, and in an area which was conservatively characterised by its tradition and ‘Englishness’. The presence of Bevan, Gore and Ginner at Applehayes seems to represent the coming of Camden Town to the country, the penetration of the natural and traditional by an avant-garde associated with modernity and the life of the city. Interestingly, Bevan’s fascination with London’s horses is a similar phenomenon in reverse, by representing animals more usually associated with the countryside being used to serve the city.
Robert Bevan and Stanislawa de Karlowska standing outside Lytchetts in Devon c.1917–18
Fig.4
Robert Bevan and Stanislawa de Karlowska standing outside Lytchetts in Devon c.1917–18
Courtesy of Patrick Baty
Robert Bevan 'The Hay Harvest' 1916
Fig.5
Robert Bevan
The Hay Harvest 1916
Photo © Tate

Robert Bevan 'The Chestnut Tree' 1916
Fig.6
Robert Bevan
The Chestnut Tree 1916
Photo © Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
Robert Bevan sketching, possibly on the Blackdown Hills, Devon c.1917–18
Fig.7
Robert Bevan sketching, possibly on the Blackdown Hills, Devon c.1917–18
Courtesy of Patrick Baty


Bevan exhibited a number of Blackdown Hill pictures at the Goupil Gallery Salon and London Group between 1913 and 1916, but it is not possible to identify this one, and it may never have been shown as it was never sold. The artist’s son R.A. Bevan wrote about Haze over the Valley to the Tate Gallery in 1960:
I honestly don’t know whether the picture the Chantrey Bequest have bought was ever exhibited. It was off its stretcher when my Father died, and I only had it re-stretched and framed a few years ago. I am afraid the title is one I had to give it myself because of the limited range of actual titles, since he often painted the same place in different conditions of light etc. The title seemed, however, to be quite descriptive.11
Bevan visited Applehayes for the last time in 1915. ‘Because of wartime conditions’, Bevan’s son wrote, ‘it was no longer possible for Harrison to continue his open hospitality to artists.’12 But Bevan felt a strong affinity for the area, and continued to spend extended periods there until the end of his life. From 1916 to 1919 he spent a large part of every year at a cottage called Lytchetts in the Bolham Valley in the heart of the Blackdown Hills (fig.4), painting works such as The Hay Harvest 1916 (fig.5) and The Chestnut Tree 1916 (fig.6). However, it was very different from the bonhomie and life of plenty at Applehayes. Separated from his family in London for much of the time, Bevan’s existence here was ascetic and solitary (fig.7). His son recalled:
At Lytchetts he was able to have a long working summer, going down early in May and often staying till the middle of November ... The cottage was new and dry, well lit, and very barely furnished. His wife would join him for about six weeks during the school holidays, and sometimes my sister and I would share this spartan existence for two or three weeks at a time. But at Lytchetts ... he was mostly alone, walking sometimes a long way afield to draw his subjects and coming back to paint them in the bare unfurnished rooms which served as his studios.13

Robert Upstone
May 2009

Notes

1
The county borders have been redrawn; at the time of Bevan’s visit, Applehayes was in Somerset.
2
Information about Applehayes and Harrison is from Clayhidon Local History Group and Artists at Applehayes: Camden Town Painters at a West Country Farm 1909–1924, exhibition catalogue, Herbert Art Gallery, Coventry 1986.
3
William Roberts, ‘A Sketch of His Early Life’, in Five Posthumous Essays and Other Writings, Valencia 1982, p.79. Roberts refers to his host incorrectly as ‘Frederick’ Harrison.
4
Quoted in Richard Carline, Stanley Spencer at War, London 1978, p.26.
5
Ibid.
6
Reproduced in R.A. Bevan, Robert Bevan 1865–1925: A Memoir by his Son, London 1965, pl.52.
7
Reproduced in Twentieth-Century British Art, Christie’s, London, 8 June 2001 (41).
8
Reproduced in Jonathan Benington, ‘Robert Bevan, Dunn’s Cottage and Applehayes’, Leeds Art Calendar, no.94, 1984, p.16.
9
Reproduced in Spencer Frederick Gore 1878–1914, exhibition catalogue, Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London 1983 (24).
10
See Sam Smiles (ed.), Going Modern and Being British: Art, Architecture and Design in Devon c.1910–1960, Exeter 1998.
11
R.A. Bevan, letter to the Tate Gallery, 11 January 1960.
12
Bevan 1965, p.21.
13
Ibid.

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