Sydney Carline

Bank Holiday on Hampstead Heath


Not on display

Sydney Carline 1888–1929
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 838 × 816 mm
frame: 939 × 916 × 80 mm
Presented by Mrs Gwendolyn Carline, the artist's widow, and Richard Carline the artist's brother 1975

Catalogue entry


Not inscribed by the artist
Oil on canvas, 33 1/16×32 1/8 (83.9×81.5)
Presented by Mrs Gwendolyn Carline and Richard Carline 1976
Coll: Gwendolyn Carline (the artist's widow); Anne Carline; Richard Carline
Exh: Eighth London Group Exhibition, Mansard Gallery, May–June 1918 (97, as ‘Bank Holiday’); The Carline Family, Leicester Galleries, May–June 1971 (24, as ‘Bank Holiday, a composition’, wrongly dated 1914, repr.)

The following note was compiled from information provided in conversations with the artist's younger brother, Richard Carline, on 29 December 1975 and subsequently unless stated otherwise. Final corrections were made in a letter of 9 February 1976.

The top stretcher bar is inscribed in ink: ‘“Hampstead Heath” by Sydney W. Carline/47 Downshire Hill/Hampstead NW3/April [? deleted] 191 [last digit illegible]’. ‘33’ is inscribed on the top canvas turnover. Both inscriptions were made by Richard Carline. The former probably in connection with the London Group exhibition and the latter following the artist's death when he listed and numbered the paintings remaining in his studio.

Richard Carline recalls the artist working on T01997 at No. 4 Downshire Hill, where the two brothers and their sister Hilda occupied the upper part of the house. Based on a scene observed during either Whitsun or Summer bank holiday, it would have been painted while the artist was on vacation from or had finished teaching at Rossall School, Fleetwood, Lancashire. It was his last important painting before seeking a suitable opening in the war services. (He acquired and practised riding a motorcycle with the intention of enrolling as a despatch rider in the army. In the event, he applied for and received a Commission as a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps, early in 1916). There is a gap of two or three years in his output of oil paintings until the Italian war paintings in 1918. In intervals of war service in 1916 and 1917 he worked on the production of his medal commemorating the Battle of Jutland and his design for the ‘Next of Kin’ medal, and meanwhile continued to make drawings and watercolours, some being imaginary scenes or fantasies and of war scenes in Italy, during intervals between flying duties, early in 1918.

Sydney Carline did not become a member of the London Group until 1922. T01997 was sent in for exhibition by Richard, who was then working or about to work at home for the R.A.F. section of the Imperial War Museum, hence the address given by his inscription, the Carline family, including their parents, having moved to No. 47 in 1917. Sydney was serving in the R.F.C. in Italy at the time, and the title as exhibited was given by Richard in lieu of instructions from the artist. In a letter from the artist to his brother of 5 March 1918 from 28th Squadron, R.F.C., Italian Expeditionary Force, Italy, he wrote: ‘You are going to send the big one to the London Group, are you not?’, which Richard Carline is certain refers to T01997. The present title was suggested by Richard Carline also, who feels that ‘Hampstead Heath’ is of lesser importance, except in so far as people sitting about on bank holiday is readily associated with the Heath and it was there that he got the idea.

A drawing for T01997 (Tate Gallery Archive 7510.14; image size 9 1/4×11 5/8 and two oil studies (private collection) preceded the finished painting. The simple pencil outline drawing shows what appears to be part of a circular flower bed in the top section of the composition, without the two tree trunks as in T01997. Highly stylized, the flower bed and flowers take the form of a repeated zig-zag pattern and regularly spaced circles. The earlier of the two oil studies shows an alternative colour scheme, in which the reclining woman is wearing a deep pink dress. Richard Carline wrote (letter to the compiler 19 January 1976). ‘It was obviously a trial of the colour scheme which led to his doing a second one in a different colour arrangement’ (slightly larger than the first). T01997 repeats the composition of this study for the most part except for changes in the rug and newspaper at the feet of the figures and the woman's posture and dress, which is blue with red speckles. She also has red hair in the study. In T01997 the rug at the man's feet appears to have been first conceived as checked but was later overpainted.

Carline continues in his letter: ‘I think he would have conceived the colour scheme in a musical sense and not in the least naturalistic. In fact, his work in general at that time, especially this one, reflected the analogy of colour and composition with music. This was stressed by Tudor-Hart in his teaching. Various friends were experimenting on these lines and behind it all lay the inspiration of Kandinsky’. Sydney, Richard and Hilda Carline studied with Percival Tudor-Hart; Sydney after the Slade in autumn 1912 joined Tudor-Hart's Atelier in Paris and continued when Tudor-Hart moved his school to Hampstead in 1913–14. Richard and Hilda remained at the school until June 1915.

An aspect of Sydney's treatment of composition at this time, probably related to both the theories of Tudor-Hart and his significant work designing circular medals, is the square format of T01997. His drawings and studies and a variety of sketchbook drawings, both autonomous and related to etchings, show his constant use of this format, not apparent in his earlier work, which Richard Carline feels is an unusual choice. But it is repeated in many of his Italian and Eastern war subjects. Richard Carline has pointed out that in Tudor-Hart's teachings, it became important to decide on the precise shape of the canvas for the expression of the idea: a squarish shape was felt to convey recession or depth to a greater extent than a tall or long shape.

T01997 is undoubtedly an experimental work, progress from which was curtailed by war service. Richard Carline suggests that the artist appeared to be moving in the direction of greater formalization and simplification of shape and colour, influenced in part by Mexican and Peruvian sculpture, seen at the British Museum, and in tune with the tendencies of friends Nevinson and William Roberts of the period just before the outbreak of war. Tudor-Hart's colour theories were a strong source of influence and also some degree of cross-fertilization between Sydney Carline's work and Hilda's, from which the rich colours might have evolved.

In 1926 Sydney Carline painted a landscape entitled ‘Hampstead Heath’, but this, like many of his post-war paintings, reverted to a much more naturalistic treatment.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1974-6: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1978

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