Harold Gilman

The Artist’s Mother


Not on display

Harold Gilman 1876–1919
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 610 × 505 mm
Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1943

Display caption

Gilman painted a series of portraits of his mother, to whom he was very close. This one was probably painted at the Rectory in Snargate, where his father was Vicar. The decorative wallpaper in the background is used by Gilman as a contrast to his painting of the figure, and such papers often feature prominently in his work. At the small art school he opened with Ginner in 1916, Gilman would habitually set models in front of a screen covered with boldly-patterned wallpaper.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry


Gilman painted several pictures of his mother Emily, née Purcell Gulliver. These include The Old Lady 1911 (Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery),1 The Artist’s Mother at Lacon Hall c.1911 (Aberdeen Art Gallery), Interior with the Artist’s Mother 1917–18 (fig.1) and The Artist’s Mother Sleeping c.1918 (private collection),2 as well as a number of drawings (fig.2). The Tate picture shows Emily Gilman in the drawing room at Snargate Rectory. The dabbed touch and heightened palette are common to other portraits of Gilman’s mother from this period, notably The Old Lady.

In his introduction to the memorial exhibition of Gilman’s work held in 1919, Charles Ginner drew particular attention to Gilman’s pictures of his mother, and specifically to the Tate painting:
In his first use of the purer impressionist palette, Gilman worked at the juxtaposition of separate colour tones in the manner of the French Impressionists. The portrait of his mother, seated in a wicker chair, full face, with her arms crossed on her lap, simple and dignified in composition and feeling, is perhaps the finest picture of this period. He painted several portraits of his mother, and his admiration and veneration for her were expressed by the dignity discernible in these works.3
That Gilman should choose his mother as a subject is not surprising, as he invariably painted those around him, and notably those who played some part in his emotional life. But it is interesting to think of Gilman’s picture in relation to Whistler’s famous Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1, Portrait of the Artist’s Mother 1871 (fig.3). Acquired by the French Government in 1891 – and delivered to Paris by Whistler’s pupil Walter Sickert – it is highly likely that Gilman was aware of this picture, and would have been able to see it in the Musée du Luxembourg on his visits to Paris. Such was the picture’s stature, and Gilman’s acknowledged early interest in Whistlerian harmony and smoothness, that it must be suspected that he was engaged in some form of mental comparison with this iconic image of Aestheticism. Gilman’s bright impressionist palette and crusty surface would have horrified Whistler, and it is as if Gilman is bidding goodbye to the subtle harmonies and glossy surfaces of his earlier pictures.

Robert Upstone
May 2009


Reproduced in C. Gordon, ‘London Commentary’, Studio, June 1948, p.189.
Reproduced in Modern British Art, Christie’s, London, 19 June 1997 (123).
Charles Ginner, ‘Harold Gilman: An Appreciation’, in Memorial Exhibition of Works by the Late Harold Gilman, exhibition catalogue, Leicester Galleries, London 1919, pp.5–6.
Frank Rutter, Some Contemporary Painters, London 1922, p.130.
Andrew Causey views this identification as a possibility. See Andrew Causey, ‘Harold Gilman: An Englishman and Post-Impressionism’, in Harold Gilman 1876–1919, exhibition catalogue, Arts Council, London 1981, p.16.
Reproduced ibid., p.38.
See John Rothenstein, Modern English Painters: Sickert to Smith, London 1952, p.158.

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