The Camden Town Group in Context

William Ratcliffe Attic Room 1918

Ratcliffe had worked as a designer in London for the Wallpaper Manufacturers’ Combine, which explains his careful attention to the pattern lining the walls of this interior, the bedroom of his niece in Berkhampstead. The arrangement of his large leather boots against the mauve skirting board and particular arrangement of the wooden chair below the roof recesses suggests the influence of van Gogh’s paintings of his bedroom.
William Ratcliffe 1870–1955
The Attic Room
1918
Oil paint on plywood panel
510 x 508 mm
Inscribed ‘W. Ratcliffe’ bottom left and ‘The Attic Room’ on label on back
Bequeathed by Miss Eveline Annie Dear 1980
T03167

Entry

William Ratcliffe depicts his niece Margaret’s bedroom at 4 Torrington Road, Berkhampstead, the address of his brother S.K. Ratcliffe and his family from 1916 to 1925.1 However, the large pair of boots at the centre of the picture indicates that Ratcliffe was himself the occupant of this room at the time it was painted. The simple chair and bed also suggest he may have had in mind Vincent van Gogh’s famous painting of his bedroom at Arles from 1888 (Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam).2 The Dutch artist had been an especially significant influence on Ratcliffe’s teacher Harold Gilman, who died the year Ratcliffe’s painting was first shown.
William Ratcliffe 'Attic Room' c.1918
Fig.1
William Ratcliffe
Attic Room c.1918
© Estate of William Ratcliffe Photo © Letchworth Museum and Art Gallery (North Hertfordshire Museum Service)
Following Gilman, Ratcliffe often painted the interiors of the houses in which he stayed. One of his first jobs had been as a pattern designer in London for the Wallpaper Manufacturers’ Combine, and this is perhaps reflected in the precise painting of the wallpaper in this work, even more apparent in the drawing (fig.1), which is exactly the same in outline and was presumably executed as a study for the oil painting, although it is not squared up. The same interest in the decorative possibilities of wallpaper also feature in Gilman’s Interior c.1914–15 (private collection),3 painted in his studio at 47 Maple Street, off Tottenham Court Road. As the art historian Wendy Baron notes, the empty chair with rush seat in Gilman’s picture might also be an homage to van Gogh.4
It seems likely that Eveline Dear (1889–1980), the only recorded owner of this work, acquired it directly from the artist. Dear lived in Letchworth Garden City from at least the 1920s, and had kept a gift shop in the town’s Eastcheap. She also ‘used to paint and for many years worked in a drawing office’.5 After time away in London and elsewhere, Ratcliffe returned to Letchworth to live with his friends Stanley and Signe Parker from 1930 until 1932, and then lodged at Lower Wilbury Farm until 1937.6

Robert Upstone and Ysanne Holt
January 2011

Notes

1
Margaret Ratcliffe, letter to Tate Gallery, 27 February 1983, Tate Catalogue file.
2
Reproduced at Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, http://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/vgm/index.jsp?page=2796&collection=451&lang=en, accessed 10 February 2011.
3
Reproduced in Wendy Baron, Perfect Moderns: A History of the Camden Town Group, Aldershot and Vermont 2000, no.61.
4
Ibid., p.154.
5
‘Surprise Bequest in a Spinster’s Will’, newspaper cutting in Ratcliffe file, Letchworth Museum and Art Gallery.
6
William Ratcliffe, exhibition catalogue, Letchworth Museum and Art Gallery 1982, p.8.

How to cite

Robert Upstone and Ysanne Holt, ‘The Attic Room 1918 by William Ratcliffe’, catalogue entry, January 2011, in Helena Bonett, Ysanne Holt, Jennifer Mundy (eds.), The Camden Town Group in Context, May 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/camden-town-group/william-ratcliffe-the-attic-room-r1136014, accessed 19 December 2014.