Spencer Gore

The Beanfield, Letchworth

1912

Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 305 x 406 mm
frame: 462 x 562 x 57 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1974
Reference
T01859

Display caption

From August to November 1912 Gore stayed in Harold Gilman's house in Letchworth while Gilman was away in Scandinavia. Letchworth was a New Town, and so at the forefront of contemporary ideas about town planning and modern living. Gore produced some of his most stylistically original work while living there. In his landscapes he used a bright, unrealistic palette and arranged shapes into geometric patterns. 'The Beanfield' is notable for the zig-zag border of the coloured bean plants in the foreground. Gilman wrote that Gore told him that 'the colour found in natural objects (in the field of beans) is collected into patterns'.

Gallery label, September 2004

Catalogue entry

Entry

This is one of the most stylised pictures that Gore made, in which he has abbreviated the forms and contours of the countryside into angular shapes and patterns, painted in vivid, flat areas of colour. Gore’s fellow Camden Town Group member James Bolivar Manson wrote about the catharsis Gore seems to have undergone while staying at Harold Gilman’s home in Letchworth Garden City from August to November 1912, and his abandonment of pure impressionism:
About 1912 Gore went to Letchworth. He had become conscious of the need for development in his art. He needed change. He seems to have felt something of the same dissatisfaction with Impressionism that Cézanne felt; its lack of definition and solidity. The feeling was intrinsic; it was not a pressure from outside. Already he had led up to the change by a definite organisation of his colour expression. He began to simplify and to mass the colour schemes of his pictures, grouping the tones into hot and cold colour. There was a gain in strength, solidity, and pattern; there was some loss of atmosphere and sparkle.
At Letchworth he made a desperate break. He began to analyse his colour tones very broadly, and to put them down in arbitrarily defined masses; his drawing became simpler, more massive, angular. It was a period of transition and the paintings of the time revealed the working of his mind in a very interesting way.1
Gilman recorded Gore’s own explanation of his approach to The Beanfield. A label on the bottom member of the stretcher has been inscribed in ink by Gilman: ‘Painted at Letchworth, Herts by SF Gore | in 1912. The colours found in the material | objects (field of beans for instance in foreground) | is collected into patterns. This was his own | explanation. Signed SF Gore | (154) a’. The back of the canvas is marked in chalk ‘58’ and ‘154’. Through simplifying areas into patterns and blocks of colour, Gore shows the landscape’s underlying form, as he wrote in 1910:
Simplification of nature necessitates an exact knowledge of the complications of the forms simplified. This may be done to produce a greater truth to nature as well as for decorative effect ... if the emotional significance which lies in things can be expressed in painting the way to it must lie through the outward character of the object painted.2

Robert Upstone
May 2009

Notes

1
James Bolivar Manson, ‘Preface’, in Exhibition of Paintings by Spencer F. Gore, exhibition catalogue, Leicester Galleries, London 1928, pp.7–8.
2
Spencer Frederick Gore, ‘Cézanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh &c., at the Grafton Galleries’, Art News, 15 December 1910, p.19.
3
Alan Cox, Brickmaking: A History and Gazetteer, Bedford 1979, p.44.
4
Ibid.
5
Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records, ref. Z50/2/80.
6
See Ysanne Holt, ‘An Ideal Modernity: Spencer Gore at Letchworth’, in David Peters Corbett, Ysanne Holt and Fiona Russell (eds.), The Geographies of Englishness: Landscape and the National Past 1880–1940, New Haven and London 2002, p.103.
7
Information sent to the author by Robert Lancaster, First Garden City Heritage Museum, Letchworth, 8 January 1991.
8
Information collated from a letter to the author from John Creasey, Institute of Agricultural History and Museum of English Rural Life, University of Reading, 25 January 1991, and a telephone conversation with the Librarian of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Foods, 25 January 1991.

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