Spencer Gore

The Blacksmith’s Shop

c.1903

View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

Artist
Spencer Gore 1878–1914
Medium
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 225 x 304 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by Albert Rutherston 1941
Reference
N05263

Catalogue entry

Entry

The back of this drawing is inscribed, probably by Albert Rutherston: ‘Spencer F. Gore. Circa 1903. Given by him to Albert Rutherston’. This is the only specific information about the drawing, and it is not known either where the scene is, or whether the drawing was part of some series.
Gore and Rutherston were friends from their time together at the Slade School of Fine Art, even though Rutherston was three years younger. All three drawings by Gore in Tate’s collection were presented by Rutherston (see N05307 and N06016). Gore left the Slade in 1899 and very little is known about this earliest phase in his development as an artist. He spent the winter of 1902–3 in Madrid, Spain, where he went with Wyndham Lewis, another Slade friend. They stayed with a Mrs Briggs at 92 Calle Mayor Tercero1 and, unknowingly, they appear to have been in the city at the same time as Harold Gilman. Gore and Rutherston formed a close friendship and seem to have shared artistic ideals in the very first years of the century. Both were interested in the possibility of the theatre in their art, and Rutherston used working women as the subject of pictures such as The Song of the Shirt 1902 (Bradford City Art Gallery)2 and The Laundry Girls 1906 (Tate N04996). In 1902 Rutherston painted Gore’s portrait (National Portrait Gallery, London).3
Unlike many of Gore’s later works on paper, none of the Tate drawings is a study for an oil painting. Complete and independent in itself, The Blacksmith’s Shop is an observation of a rural scene then common in Britain. However, there is a degree of artifice and construction in the subject that suggests the rustic genre and commonplace cottage narrative of popular Victorian painting. Looking further back, it is even more strongly reminiscent of pictures of village life by the eighteenth-century painter George Morland (Tate N02641, fig.1). Gore’s drawing invokes tradition and the picturesque, a scene where the modern world of industry or the city is not allowed to intrude. Traditionally, the blacksmith was at the heart of village life, a vital part of the local economy who shod horses that were essential for transportation and farm labour. By the time Gore made this drawing, English village life was somewhat in retreat, and traditional rural processes were giving way to scientific practice and mechanisation. Cities were encroaching into the countryside and, although horses were still the staple of transport, the motor car was beginning to appear on the streets and roads of Britain. In 1903, the likely year Gore made his drawing, the first motor taxi was licensed in London, and Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company in America. Gore himself grew up in Hertingfordbury, a village near Hertford about twenty-five miles outside London and within easy commuting distance of the capital.

The manner of Gore’s draughtsmanship in this drawing is absolutely traditional, if a little awkward in places. There is no suggestion of the stylised forms that would appear in his landscapes at Letchworth Garden City ten years later. Instead, with its soft, feathery foliage and gnarled tree roots, parts of the drawing recall English watercolours of the eighteenth century or the landscape sketches of Thomas Gainsborough.

Robert Upstone
May 2009

Notes

1
Richard Shone, ‘Spencer Frederick Gore’, in Spencer Frederick Gore 1878–1914, exhibition catalogue, Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London 1983, n.p.
2
Reproduced in Max Rutherston, Albert Rutherston, London 1988, pl.4.
3
National Portrait Gallery NPG 3320; reproduced in R.M.Y. Gleadowe, Albert Rutherston, London 1925, pl.3, and at the National Portrait Gallery, London, http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/largerimage.php?LinkID=mp01829&role=sit&rNo=0, accessed 14 February 2011.

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