Painted from a high vantage point, this work shows the view south-east along Willifield Way in the newly built Hampstead Garden Suburb in London. The fronts of the houses on the left of the painting are brightly lit, while long purple shadows from the houses on the right are cast on to the road, suggesting that the time of day is late afternoon. The angle of the sun and the amount of tree foliage suggests that the time of year is spring.
Adopting the bright complementary colours used by other members of the Camden Town Group and post-impressionist painters, Ratcliffe has juxtaposed bright red and green as well as purple and yellow to create strong contrasts. Small figures populate the pavement on the right that leads to a horse, its carriage just out of sight, on the edge of the painting. In contrast to this outmoded form of transport, three motor cars are being driven along the spacious road.
At the centre of the composition to the front stand three larger figures. Two appear in dark purple silhouette while a third, a child in red coat and hat, stands out against a white path. The path, figures and straight road draw the viewer’s eye up the composition. A strong perspective is created by the road as it recedes into the distance, with the undulating treetops of Hampstead Heath articulated in a soft purple in the background, thus creating a sense of depth.
In contrast to the symmetrical Palladian style of much London architecture, the architects of the Suburb were inspired by the Arts and Crafts ideals of organic architectural forms. The houses depicted are a mixture of shapes and sizes, with plenty of healthy surrounding vegetation, creating the sense of a naturally evolving community; but the geometric lines marking out the houses, roads and gardens also give a sense of order. In this way, Ratcliffe’s painting reaffirms Hampstead Garden Suburb’s attempt to fuse the ideals of town and country living. The Times commented in 1909 that ‘The Garden Suburb at Hampstead is a proof of what can be done when order and design take the place of anarchy and chaos.’1
Hampstead Garden Suburb
The Camden Town Group and the Garden Cities
Exhibition and ownership
Times, 7 February 1909; quoted in Raymond Unwin and M.H. Baillie Scott, Town Planning and Modern Architecture at the Hampstead Garden Suburb, London 1909, [before p.1].
List of Ratcliffe’s various addresses in Garden City to Camden Town: The Art of William Ratcliffe, exhibition catalogue, Letchworth Museum and Art Gallery 2003, [p.16].
Three photographs of Willifield Way just after it was built are reproduced in Unwin and Baillie Scott 1909, pp.77–8.
Barnett’s views were initially outlined in Henrietta Barnett, ‘A Garden Suburb at Hampstead’, Contemporary Review, vol.87, February 1905, pp.231–7.
Unwin and Baillie Scott 1909, p.1.
Raymond Unwin, letter to Henrietta Barnett, 1911; quoted in Ruth Gilchrist and Tony Jeffs (eds.), Settlements, Social Change & Community Action: Good Neighbours, London and Philadelphia 2001, p.188.
Kathleen M. Slack, Henrietta’s Dream: A Chronicle of the Hampstead Garden Suburb 1905–1982, London 1982, p.68.
Mervyn Miller, Hampstead Garden Suburb: Arts and Crafts Utopia?, second edn, Chichester 2006, p.184. See, also, Hampstead Garden Suburb Residents’ Association, Illustrated History of Hampstead Garden Suburb, London 1954, p.17.
A pre-1914 photograph of the Club House showing the building with its landmark tower is reproduced in Mervyn Miller, Hampstead Garden Suburb: Past and Present, Chalford, Stroud 1995, p.61.
A photograph of the bombed building is reproduced ibid., p.104.
Reproduced in Harold Gilman 1876–1919, exhibition catalogue, Arts Council, London 1981 (31).
Ysanne Holt, ‘An Ideal Modernity: Spencer Gore at Letchworth’, British Artists and the Modernist Landscape, Aldershot 2003, p.115.
Reproduced in Letchworth Museum and Art Gallery 2003, inside back cover.