William Ratcliffe

Clarence Gardens


Not on display

William Ratcliffe 1870–1955
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 570 × 762 mm
frame: 682 × 934 × 85 mm
Purchased 1982

Display caption

Ratcliffe began his career as a commercial designer and amateur artist, living in Letchworth in Hertfordshire. Here he met Harold Gilman, who had moved there in 1908, and who encouraged him to return to painting. Ratcliffe studied at the Slade School briefly in 1910. For a short period, around 1912-14, his landscapes and interiors have the intense colouring and tight design typical of the Camden Town Group.
Clarence Gardens, which no longer exists, was a square in the Camden Town area frequently painted by Bevan and Sickert. Ratcliffe probably chose it for these associations, and perhaps worked alongside one of the other artists.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry


Originally known as Clarence Market, Clarence Gardens NW1 was designed by the architect John Nash (1752–1835) as part of a series of three markets in the area to the east of Regent’s Park. Consisting of York, Cumberland and Clarence Markets, they were originally intended for trading in meat, hay and vegetables respectively. Each was bordered by terraces of small houses intended for artisan dwellers. Clarence Market was renamed Clarence Gardens soon after it was built in 1824, when the centre of the square was occupied by a market garden. The whole area was badly bombed in 1941, and Clarence Gardens was cleared and replaced by council flats in the 1960s.1
Tate’s work is one of two oils Ratcliffe made of Clarence Gardens. The other from c.1911–1912 is smaller and shows only the south-eastern corner of the square (fig.1). One of the works was exhibited at the third Camden Town Group exhibition in December 1912, and it seems reasonable to assume it was the larger and more complex Tate work. Its price listed in the catalogue was 15 guineas, supporting it being a larger painting. In a review of the exhibition in the Daily Telegraph, the critic Sir Claude Phillips stated:
Out of two in themselves fairly prosaic scenes, ‘Clarence Gardens’ and ‘Hotel Cecil from Hungerford Bridge,’ Mr. W. Ratcliffe has without offending against the modesty of truth, extracted elements of beauty. In both cases compositions of decorative aspect and satisfying harmony, both linear and chromatic, have been obtained.2
Ratcliffe may have been stimulated to make these works by his friendship with Harold Gilman, who also painted two pictures of the square around 1912 (fig.2). Although depictions of north London squares and the backs of houses were a key feature of Camden Town painting – of Gore and Gilman in particular – they represent a relatively small part of Ratcliffe’s output. For the most part the artist favoured interior scenes or landscapes and rural subjects, like those he produced in Letchworth Garden City and in Sweden, where he travelled in 1913.

Robert Upstone and Ysanne Holt
January 2011


A photograph of how a relatively unchanged part of the square looked in 1955 is reproduced in Michael Mansbridge, John Nash, Oxford 1991, p.265.
Sir Claude Phillips, ‘The Camden Town Group’, Daily Telegraph, 17 December 1912, p.14.
Wendy Baron, The Camden Town Group, London 1979, p.322.

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