Spencer GoreA Singer at the Bedford Music Hall 1912

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Artwork details

Artist
Spencer Gore (1878‑1914)
Title
A Singer at the Bedford Music Hall
Date 1912
MediumOil paint on canvas
Dimensionssupport: 533 x 432 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition Presented by Mr and Mrs Robert Lewin through the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1978
Reference
T02260
Not on display

Catalogue entry

Gore’s painting shows a performance at the Bedford Music Hall on Camden High Street by the singer Florrie Forde. Her figure is treated in a simplified manner, with her dark shadow interrupting the circle of the spotlight cast on the flat scenery behind. Gore lived nearby and liked to sketch at the New Bedford, perhaps sometimes in the company of Walter Sickert, who also made pictures of its neo-baroque interior.
Spencer Gore 1878–1914
A Singer at the Bedford Music Hall
1912
Oil paint on canvas
533 x 432 mm
Inscribed by Harold Gilman ‘Painted by S.F. Gore in 1912. It is painted | from one drawing done in the Bedford music | Hall. | (a) (147)’ in ink on label on canvas stretcher; ‘147 59 113’ in white chalk on back; studio stamp ‘S.F. GORE’ bottom right.
Presented by Mr and Mrs Robert Lewin through the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1978
T02260

Entry

A label on the stretcher is inscribed in ink by Harold Gilman: ‘Painted by S.F. Gore in 1912. It is painted | from one drawing done in the Bedford music | Hall. | (a) (147)’. The reverse of the canvas has been inscribed in white chalk ‘147 59 113’, which, because of its first number, is probably by Gilman too. After Gore’s death, Gilman went through his studio and numbered the canvases on their reverse in what he believed was their order of execution, adding ‘(a)’ to those he believed to be of special interest or value.
Ernest Milner 'London Transport photograph of 91–97 Camden High Street, with the Bedford Theatre of Varieties' 14 May 1904
Fig.1
Ernest Milner
London Transport photograph of 91–97 Camden High Street, with the Bedford Theatre of Varieties 14 May 1904
Photo © Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre
The Bedford Music Hall programme Monday 2 October 1899
Fig.2
The Bedford Music Hall programme Monday 2 October 1899
Photo © The Mander and Mitchenson Theatre Collection / ArenaPal

The Bedford Music Hall was at 93–95 Camden High Street, just a few minutes’ walk from Gore’s flat in Houghton Place (figs.1 and 2).1 The original Bedford Music Hall opened in 1861, but burnt down in 1896. A very popular venue, it was rebuilt and opened as the Beford Palace of Varieties on 6 February 1899. The interior was designed in an ebullient neo-baroque style, opulently gilded, and decorated with plaster caryatids and putti and red velvet hangings. It could hold 1,100 people.2 The theatre attracted some of the most famous music-hall artists of the day, including Marie Lloyd, Little Tich and Charles Coburn, with his famous songs The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo and Two Lovely Black Eyes . In 1912 both the actor Charlie Chaplin and singer Gracie Fields appeared there.3
Marie Lloyd (1870–1922) performs 'The Coster Girl in Paris' (recorded July 1912)
© Windyridge Music Hall CDs
Little Tich (1867–1928) performs 'There's a Silly Thing to Ask a Policeman' (recorded January 1915)
© Windyridge Music Hall CDs
Little Tich (1867–1928) performs 'The Zoo Keeper' (recorded August 1911)
© Windyridge Music Hall CDs

Music halls were still extremely popular, but were facing competition from other sources of mass entertainment, notably the new phenomenon of the picture palace. Music halls were expensive and therefore sometimes risky businesses to run. In 1911 there was a meeting of the creditors of Benjamin Pearce Lucas of 80 Arlington Road, Regent’s Park, the one-time owner of the Bedford. It was reported in the Times that:
the debtor had stated that he was acting as manager and director of the Bedford Music Hall, which he acquired about May, 1898, and rebuilt. In February, 1899, he reopened the hall, and carried it on for two years at a loss. Six months later he sold it to the Bedford Palace of Varieties (Limited), of which he was appointed managing director. The business was successfully conducted until three years ago, but no profit had since been made owing to competition ... The failure was attributed to losses in connexion with music-halls; the competition of picture palaces; heavy expenses and payments to artists ... The meeting resolved that the debtor should be adjudged bankrupt.4
In 1908 Lucas had tried to block the opening of the grand Camden Town Palace at Mornington Crescent. He lodged a complaint at the licence hearing that ‘the locality was already amply provided with music halls ... and ... that the setting up of this new music hall would be unfair trade competition and that it was not needed in the neighbourhood’.5 The London County Council granted the Palace its licence ‘on condition that no intoxicating liquor was sold or consumed on the premises’.6
Sickert had painted the original ‘Old Bedford’ theatre and, from 1908, he made a series of pictures of the rebuilt music-hall interior and its audience, including The New Bedford (Tate N06174). Gore made his earliest known picture of the Bedford in 1907,7 which depicts a singer on the stage treated in a similarly simplified manner to the Tate picture. It is tempting to speculate whether Gore and Sickert attended performances there together around 1907–8.
In A Singer at the Bedford Music Hall the figure has a strangely contorted facial expression. This may be because she is winking at the audience, perhaps during the kind of song that contained the double entendres which were so popular in the music halls of the period. The stylisation of the figure would appear to derive from the post-impressionist Paul Gauguin, although the commitment to a theatrical subject is entirely characteristic of Gore.
Florrie Forde
Fig.3
Florrie Forde
Photo © The Mander and Mitchenson Theatre Collection / ArenaPal
Alice Lloyd (1873–1949) performs 'The Nearer the Bone, The Sweeter the Meat'
© Windyridge Music Hall CDs


The singer has been identified by Max Tyler, the Historian of the British Music Hall Society, as Florrie Forde (1876–1940, fig.3).8 Born in Melbourne, Forde was an immensely popular and successful performer who debuted on the London stage in 1897. She was known for ‘chorus songs’, that is songs where she would invite the audience to sing along with her during the chorus. Among Forde’s most famous songs were Hold Your Hand out Naughty Boy, Down at the Old Bull and Bush, Has Anyone Here Seen Kelly and Oh Oh Antonio. During the First World War she entertained the troops and theatres with It’s a Long Way to Tipperary, Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty and Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag. Forde introduced over six hundred songs in all, and most of these were published; the sale of the sheet music was extremely lucrative. She paid to secure sole theatre performance rights for many songs which became her trademarks.9

Robert Upstone
May 2009

Notes

2
See Sickert: Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy, London 1992 (86).
4
‘Bankruptcy Law’, Times, 19 July 1911, p.22.
5
‘Music and Dancing Licences’, Times, 7 November 1908, p.12.
6
Ibid.
7
Reproduced in Spencer Frederick Gore 1878–1914, exhibition catalogue, Antony d’Offay Gallery, London 1983 (4).
8
Max Tyler, Historian of the British Music Hall Society, letter to the author, 19 December 2003.
9
Ernest Short, Fifty Years of Vaudeville, London 1946, p.229.

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