Spencer GoreHoughton Place 1912

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Artwork details

Artist
Spencer Gore (1878‑1914)
Title
Houghton Place
Date 1912
MediumOil paint on canvas
Dimensionssupport: 515 x 614 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition Presented by the Contemporary Art Society 1927
Reference
N03839
Not on display

Catalogue entry

A small corner of the balcony is visible in the lower left-hand corner of this painting, which looks towards Ampthill Square from Spencer Gore’s flat in Houghton Place. Streets intersecting at an angle frame the square’s gardens. The high perspective here resonates with Gore’s viewpoints in his music-hall pictures, such as Inez and Taki (Tate N05859).
Spencer Gore 1878–1914
Houghton Place
1912
Oil paint on canvas
510 x 610 mm
Inscribed studio stamp ‘S.F. GORE’ bottom right
Presented by the Contemporary Art Society 1927
N03839

Entry

With Walter Sickert as his best man, in January 1912 Gore married Mary Johanna Kerr, known as Mollie. He gave up his bachelor lodgings at 6 Mornington Crescent and moved with Mollie to a flat at 2 Houghton Place, a short distance away, close to the mass of railway lines snaking out of Euston. At Mornington Crescent Gore had painted a great number of pictures showing the view from his window, and in his new accommodation he continued this practice. Houghton Place shows the view from the flat’s first-floor window towards Ampthill Square. The houses in Houghton Place had windows on the first floor which opened out onto a balcony, and this was evidently the level on which the Gores’ flat was located. Access to the balcony allowed him to paint views along the street at a less oblique angle than if he had had to rely on painting from the window.
Spencer Gore 'Nearing Euston Station' 1911
Fig.1
Spencer Gore
Nearing Euston Station 1911
Photo © The Provost and Scholars of King’s College, Cambridge
Ampthill Square was a sizeable, rhomboid-shaped space with gardens at the centre. These had been bisected by railway lines passing through its centre, cutting the garden in two and punching through the terraces of houses. Gore’s view looks south towards the railway cutting, so he must have been able to hear the frequent passing of chugging locomotives; but the painting reveals nothing of this, instead depicting the peaceful, Douanier Rousseau-esque screen of vegetation. It was probably from Ampthill Square gardens that Gore showed the view down onto the tracks in Nearing Euston Station 1911 (fig.1),1 whose foreground is occupied by a passing train. As the shortest route, it was probably along Ampthill Square and across its bridge over the railway that Gore would have walked to visit Sickert, who lived nearby at Rowlandson House on Hampstead Road (see Tate N05088). Indeed, the viewpoint of Houghton Place looks in the direction of Sickert’s art school.
Gore painted a number of pictures from the balcony of 2 Houghton Place. In The Corner of Ampthill Square 1913 (private collection),2 he showed mainly the house on the square’s corner that is visible as a strip up the right-hand side of Houghton Place. This house was also the main focus of View from the Balcony, 2 Houghton Place 1913 (fig.2) which includes in the foreground the cutting diagonal of the balcony railings themselves. There is a resonance in this picture of the juxtaposition of angles and birds-eye viewpoints that are found in Gore’s music-hall pictures. The V-shaped intersection of the balcony in Inez and Taki (Tate N05859, fig.3) seems to find a distant echo in the high viewpoint and street splitting in two directions shown in Houghton Place, and the balcony cutting across the very bottom-left corner of the picture. It is almost as if the tension between the odd angles of Houghton Place and Ampthill Square appealed innately to Gore’s fascination with opposing planes.
Spencer Gore 'View from the Balcony, 2 Houghton Place' 1913
Fig.2
Spencer Gore
View from the Balcony, 2 Houghton Place 1913
Photo © Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth
Spencer Gore 'Inez and Taki' 1910
Fig.3
Spencer Gore
Inez and Taki 1910

Gore also painted the view looking the other way up the street. In Harrington Square from 2 Houghton Place 1913 (private collection),3 Gore showed a rainy day early in the year before the trees had grown leaves, and emphasised the lighting of a gloomy day and wet streets. This is a contrast to A London Sunset, Harrington Square from 2 Houghton Place 1913 (private collection),4 which, warmly coloured, records a spring or summer sunset.
Unlike The Corner of Ampthill Square and View from the Balcony, 2 Houghton Place, there are no figures in the Tate picture. The streets are deserted, and the only presence is the parked vehicles, including a motor taxi, which by 1912 had become a presence in city life (see Tate N05911). The houses of Houghton Place were substantial five-storey residences built in the kind of brick and stucco Regency style common to Camden Town and Mornington Crescent. When Charles Booth (1840–1916) walked the area with Police Inspector Wait on 28 October 1898 for his survey of London poverty, he recorded in his notebook, ‘East into Harrington Sq and south down Houghton Place into Ampthill Sq: “The whole of this district” said Wait “is on the decline: lodgers are coming in more and more”.’5 In his Maps Descriptive of London Poverty (1898–9), Booth colour-coded Houghton Place as a mixture of red – indicating the second most affluent level in his system of categorisation and described as ‘Middle class. Well-to-do’ – and purple, which was two steps lower and which he described as ‘Mixed. Some comfortable others poor.’ A fact no doubt unknown to the Gores, one of the previous occupants of 2 Houghton Place had been Ellen Ternan, who is now generally accepted to have been Charles Dickens’s mistress. Ampthill Square and Houghton Place were demolished in the spring of 1968 to make way for Camden Council’s three public housing, high-rise tower blocks known as the Ampthill Estate.
The bottom-right corner of the canvas bears the studio stamp that was applied to all the unsigned pictures left in Gore’s studio when he died. In an undated letter, but evidently from a short period after Gore’s death, Harold Gilman wrote to Lucien Pissarro: ‘Mollie Gore wants you and Sickert & me to class and arrange all Gore’s pictures. You are the ones I myself would have wished & I am very pleased.’6 Gilman made a manuscript catalogue of Gore’s works, numbering them in chronological order and designating those he felt were the most important with an ‘a’. The idea of stamping Gore’s pictures was Pissarro’s. Gore’s cousin Nicholas de Grey wrote to Pissarro in June 1914:
Mollie Gore is much pleased at your suggestion of designing a seal for marking Freddy’s unsigned pictures ... What she wants is something about the size of a shilling to contain his whole name S F Gore. Would you turn your brain onto the subject ... Do you propose to cut it in wood or should you propose to have a rubber stamp made? I could get the latter done if that were any convenience to you. I suppose you will send the design to Mollie before it is cut or made. I think she would like that.7

Robert Upstone
May 2009

Notes

2
Reproduced in Spencer Frederick Gore 1878–1914, exhibition catalogue, Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London 1974 (26).
3
Reproduced ibid., (29).
4
Reproduced ibid., (30).
5
Notebook B357, pp.26–7, Booth Collection, Archives of British Library of Political and Economic Science, London School of Economics.
6
Harold Gilman, letter to Lucien Pissarro, undated [1914], Lucien Pissarro Papers, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
7
Nicholas de Grey, letter to Lucien Pissarro, June 1914, Lucien Pissarro Papers, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

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