Spencer Gore

The Fig Tree


Not on display

Spencer Gore 1878–1914
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 635 × 760 mm
Bequeathed by J.W. Freshfield 1955

Display caption

Spencer Gore was drawn to scenes of everyday life in London. Here he shows the fig tree which grew in the garden next to his upstairs flat at Houghton Place, just off Mornington Crescent.

Gore often painted the view through the windows of houses where he lived. He produced a sequence of views of this tree in different seasons, perhaps inspired by Claude Monet’s series of paintings of haystacks, or Rouen Cathedral, under different lighting conditions.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry


Following Gore’s marriage to Mary Johanna Kerr, known as ‘Mollie’, in 1912, the couple moved into a first-floor flat at 2 Houghton Place NW1, near his previous lodgings in Mornington Crescent (see Tate N03839). It appears to have been a period of great contentment for him, and during 1912 his output was prolific. It was in this year that his style started to change markedly, a process that culminated in the highly stylised paintings of Letchworth Garden City and his decorative scheme for the Cave of the Golden Calf nightclub (fig.1). While living at Houghton Place, Gore made a number of paintings from the windows of the house, both front and back, and these include several views of the rear garden. The large fig tree which grew in the next garden is sometimes shown in full leaf, as in the Tate picture, and sometimes in the bareness of winter, as in From a Window at 2 Houghton Place 1913 (private collection).1 It is possible that Gore was consciously engaged in the process of painting a series, in the manner of Claude Monet’s depictions of London, or at least that he chose to return to the same subject to depict it during different seasons even if in different compositions. The views he painted from the front of the house also follow this pattern, including two paintings showing the view up Houghton Place towards Harrington Square, which have exactly the same composition but one of which was painted in high summer and the other in winter.2 The figure standing in the garden lends human presence, and is perhaps Gore’s wife.
Other paintings of the Gores’ garden include Down the Garden, 2 Houghton Place 1912 (private collection)3 and Spring in North London 1912 (private collection).4 In The Fig Tree, as with his other paintings of trees and foliage, Gore concentrated on the textures, patterns and colours. The impressionist technique of applying short dabs of colour has been replaced here with a broader painting style, but one which follows the impressionist belief in coloured shadows. As with many other works, Gore here constructs a composition that relies on the tension of diagonal lines, the garden walls running across the picture, one of them cutting off the bottom corner, but unified by the spreading forms of the vegetation. Gore paid particular attention to the harmony of all his pictures’ colour schemes. He wrote to his pupil, John Doman Turner, explaining:

Robert Upstone
May 2009


Reproduced in Spencer Frederick Gore 1878–1914, exhibition catalogue, Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London 1983 (28).
Both reproduced ibid. (29, 30).
Reproduced ibid. (18).
Reproduced ibid. (19).
Spencer Gore, letter to John Doman Turner, 7 October 1909, private collection, no.21.
Spencer Gore, letter to John Doman Turner, 11 June 1910, private collection, no.26.
Spencer Gore, letter to John Doman Turner, 22 February 1909, private collection, no.10.
Reproduced in Modern British and Irish Paintings, Watercolours and Sculpture, Christie’s, London, 11 March 1994 (54).

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