James Bolivar Manson



Not on display

James Bolivar Manson 1879–1945
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 508 × 397 mm
Presented by D.C. Fincham 1938

Display caption

This portrait was painted around the time Manson started working at the Tate. He eventually became Director of the Tate Gallery from 1930 until 1938. He stands in front of a painting wearing a casual jacket, and smoking a pipe.

Manson served as secretary for the Camden Town Group in 1910, and the bright colours and textured brushwork of this portrait reflect the influence of the artists who he associated with, including Spencer Gore and Walter Sickert.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry


Manson was in his early thirties when he painted this self-portrait. It shows him in a pose that combines alertness and a very direct gaze with an assumed aspect of informality by depicting himself with a pipe in his mouth. This character of artistic bohemianism is reinforced by his unstructured jacket, which is probably his painting coat. The portrait has the appearance of having been made while looking in a mirror, with adjustments made later. It is painted in a version of impressionism, with broken touches of paint and colour. With his friend Lucien Pissarro, Manson believed strongly that the impressionist technique and theory developed by Lucien’s father Camille was the ideal style of art. Like Lucien, he had misgivings about the more radical direction the London avant-garde was taking away from such principles, although he tried to hold the Camden Town Group together and later ensure the plurality of the London Group that succeeded it.1
The subjects of Manson’s art were generally country landscapes or flower pictures (see, for example, Tate N01355 and N05320). But he also painted a number of portraits, generally of his friends or family. These include an informal picture of his wife sewing outside from c.1910, perhaps the picture exhibited as A Corner of the Garden at the first Camden Town Group exhibition (private collection),2 as well as more conventional portrait treatments, such as: Portrait of Mr Bravington aged Two, made in 1912 around the same time as his self-portrait;3 Portrait of a Child 1915 (private collection),4 perhaps also Master Bravington; and Portrait of a Lady in a Striped Dress, probably of a later date.5 His portrait of Lucien Pissarro reading, from around 1913, is in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (fig.1).

Robert Upstone
July 2009

Revised by Helena Bonett
February 2011


See Wendy Baron, Perfect Moderns: The Camden Town Group, Aldershot and Vermont 2000, pp.58–9, 62–7.
Lilian in Miss Odell’s Garden, reproduced in The Painters of Camden Town 1905–1920, exhibition catalogue, Christie’s, London 1988 (86).
Reproduced in Twentieth-Century British Art, Christie’s South Kensington, 2 November 2001 (23).
Reproduced in Sale of Pictures & Books, Cheffins, 30 October 2008 (13).
Reproduced in Modern Pictures, Bonhams Knightsbridge, 16 September 2008 (91).
NPG 5731, reproduced at National Portrait Gallery, London, http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/largerimage.php?search=sp&sText=halpert+manson&firstRun=true&rNo=0, accessed 21 February 2011.
Reproduced in Camden Town Recalled, exhibition catalogue, Fine Art Society, London 1976 (102).
For more on artists’ self-portraits, see Andrew Stephenson, ‘Questions of Artistic Identity, Self-Fashioning and Social Referencing in the Work of the Camden Town Group, c.1905–14’, The Camden Town Group, Tate 2011, http://www.tate.org.uk.
David Fincham, letter to Tate Gallery, 9 December 1957, Tate Catalogue file.

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