Douglas Fox Pitt

Concert on the West Pier, Brighton

c.1916–8

Medium
Charcoal and watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 210 x 279 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by Miss Patience Scott 1924
Reference
N03994

Catalogue entry

Entry

This picture has formerly been dated in Tate catalogues c.1911–18, but it must post-date 1916 as this was when the concert hall opened on the West Pier. Fox Pitt moved to Brighton in 1911, and remained there until 1918 when he moved to Thorpe in Surrey. The painting of Concert on the West Pier, Brighton appears therefore to date from the years 1916–18.
Douglas Fox Pitt 'Concert on the West Pier, Brighton' c.1918
Fig.1
Douglas Fox Pitt
Concert on the West Pier, Brighton c.1918
Royal Pavilion and Museum, Brighton and Hove
Reproduced with the kind permission of The Royal Pavilion and Museums (Brighton & Hove)
Brighton’s West Pier recorded larger numbers of visitors in this period. In 1910–11 nearly 1.5 million people paid to go through the turnstile. During the First World War attendance fell off to a low point of 894,000 in 1915–16, but this recovered after the war’s end; in 1918–19 two million people were recorded. Between 1914 and 1916 the West Pier’s covered bandstand was demolished. An eight-sided concert hall was built in its place, constructed around a skeleton of cast-iron arches which elegantly spanned the inner space without columns. The hall had capacity to seat 1,400 people. The inaugural concert took place on 20 April 1916 with a performance by the King’s Royal Rifles silver band, made up of wounded men and those physically exempted from combat. The performers in Fox Pitt’s watercolour are not wearing military uniform, and include women performers such as the pianist, and so it does not depict this grand occasion. The empty seats among the audience would also support this. Instead, he appears to show a daytime concert with those in the audience made up of women and those men beyond the age of military conscription, more visible in the final oil version of the composition (fig.1). The stand in front of the conductor bearing the number ‘4’ visible in the watercolour was used to indicate which item on the programme the orchestra was playing.1 The girders which supported the domed roof have a certain resonance in Fox Pitt’s watercolour with works such as Harold Gilman’s painting of Leeds Market c.1913 (Tate N04273, fig.2), and this may have exerted some conscious or unconscious influence over him in planning his own work. Gilman’s painting was exhibited at the 1915 London Group exhibition, and it was probably there that it was bought by Fox Pitt’s friend Walter Taylor. Taylor and Fox Pitt were on friendly terms and for a time shared living accommodation together in Brighton, and so it is highly likely that Fox Pitt was familiar with Leeds Market. Such architectural elements were also a characteristic of Charles Ginner’s paintings, with which Fox Pitt would have been familiar through his viewing of the Camden Town and London group exhibitions. A further, more distant artistic connection could be made to the theatre paintings of Edgar Degas. The proximity of the audience and musicians in such works by Degas have only a distant echo in Fox Pitt’s concert scene, but he is likely to have seen such works or to have discussed them with Walter Sickert or Spencer Gore. As Fox Pitt would also have been aware, Gore himself had also painted the exterior of the West Pier in two oil paintings in 1913 during a family visit to Taylor, Brighton Pier (Southampton Art Gallery)2 and The West Pier, Brighton (private collection).3

Robert Upstone
July 2009

Notes

1
Information from Professor Fred Gray, University of Sussex.
2
Reproduced in Modern Painters: The Camden Town Group, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2008 (75).
3
Reproduced in Wendy Baron, Perfect Moderns: The Camden Town Group, Aldershot 2000, pl.24.
4
For this and preceding data see Fred Gray, Walking on Water: The West Pier Story, Brighton 1998.
5
Walter Sickert, letter to Nan Hudson, 10 October 1913, Tate Archive TGA 9125/5, no.69.
6
James Bolivar Manson, ‘Fox-Pitt’, in Works by the Late Colonel Goff and the Late Douglas Fox-Pitt, exhibition catalogue, Public Art Gallery, Brighton 1923, pp.13–14.

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