The location of this scene was close to where Karlowska and Robert Bevan lived at 14 Adamson Road, Swiss Cottage. It shows the view south down Finchley Road from the point where it meets Fitzjohn’s Avenue and Adelaide Road, now considerably redeveloped. Ye Old Swiss Cottage pub has since been demolished and rebuilt, but still occupies the same site and has the same name. The yellow building to the left of the pub in the picture was the Swiss Cottage Dairy. Directories of the period list William Topliss (his name appears on a shop awning) as a fruiterer at 131 Finchley Road. The curiously shaped structure rising behind the rooftops on the right, above the bus, remains unidentified, although it has been suggested that it could be connected with the fire station which occupied the spot at this time; it could perhaps be a water tower or a structure for drying hoses.1
Bevan’s painting around this time was much taken up with local street scenes and there is therefore a clear connection between the couple’s choice of subject matter. However, Bevan’s pictures, such as Belsize Park 1917 (Museum of London),2 are often characterised by the lack of human figures, while in Swiss Cottage Karlowska has populated her canvas with bustling shoppers at a busy intersection. Karlowska appears to have deliberately attenuated their bodies, so they appear taller and thinner than would be normal, lending the picture the exaggerated quality of caricature. The manner in which several figures stare back at the viewer – notably the girl with the hoop – recalls photographs of the period in which subjects return the interest of the photographer. Although the Camden Town Group took its name from an urban area, it is surprising how few of their paintings actually depict street scenes, and when they do the human presence is rarely the focus. Ginner’s Piccadilly Circus 1912 (Tate T03096) is a notable exception, although the traffic itself is perhaps most prominent in that work. More than others in the circle, Karlowska and Bevan seem to have been the most interested in the potential of the life of the streets, usually in their immediate neighbourhood, to provide the subject matter of their work.