The Camden Town Group in Context

ISBN 978-1-84976-385-1

Author unknown

The Observer, 22 December 1912.

 The members of the “Camden Town Group,” who are holding their third exhibition at the Carfax Gallery, in Bury-street, St. James’s, belong, like the Johannites of Chelsea, who were referred to in this column last week, to the advance guard, but, with one or two exceptions, their sympathies are with the Impressionists rather than with the Primitives. One of these exceptions is Mr. Walter Bayes, who really stands quite apart from the rest. He is above all a decorator – an artist concerned with the rhythmic spacing of his design in a harmonious pattern of delicate colour. There is something of classic severity in his design, although it has nothing of the artificiality of classicist art. It is difficult exactly to define the quality that is so attractive in his pictures. Perhaps it is that, with all the thought given to the rhythmic arrangement of the material, and in spite of the deliberate suppression of plastic relief, they never look like studio inventions. It is as though Nature had presented the pattern to him ready made, and not as if he had imposed his idea of decorative pattern upon Nature. “Le Petit Casino,” “Shade” and “Port” have a distinction, a refinement, a lucid clearness, that are but rarely found in modern art.
 Mr. Henry Lamb, who is showing two studies of heads, would be more at home at Chenil’s than in the present company; and Mr. Wyndham Lewis continues to worship at the shrine of Cubism, or rather “Spherism,” in a lamentably unintelligible geometrical diagram entitled “Danse.”
 The other Camden Town painters form a more homogenous group, in which Mr. Walter Sickert and Mr. Lucien Pissarro are the dominating personalities. Most of them are addicted to the excessive use of purple; and nearly all of them, whilst recognising the advantage of using paint in a manner to create an interesting texture, are apt to disregard the beauty of surface quality, and to lay on their paint so roughly that the surface looks and feels like a rasp or a nutmeg-grater. Mr. Walter Sickert adds to their unpleasant quality a certain perversity of taste which makes him delight in the most sordid and repulsive subjects. “Summer in Naples” is yet another variant of his series of bedroom scenes in poverty-stricken attics, which were apparently inspired by the Camden Town murder sensation. What this coarse, nude and very un-Italian navvy sitting on an iron bed in the dingiest of interiors has to do with “Summer in Naples” must be left to Mr. Sickert to explain. But such is the power of his art that this most sordid of scenes is glorified and made a thing of beauty by the marvellous vibrant atmosphere in which it is enveloped.
 Mr. Lucien Pissarro has never painted anything that can rival his still life, “Tomatoes,” a picture of precious quality in spite of the crusty impasto of his technique. Mr. Doman Turner’s charcoal drawings, with water-colour washes are remarkable for their vibrant sparkle. Mr. J. B. Manion’s [sic] “Still Life,” of gay flowers on a coloured table cloth would be more effective in its bright key if it did not suffer from an absolute sameness of texture. Mr. S. F. Gore and Mr. Gilman manage to obtain an air of dinginess in their landscapes, in spite of having banished all neutral greys and black and sooty brown from their palette. A picture of quite unusual interest is Mr. Ginner’s “Piccadilly Circus,” with its bewildering vehicular traffic. It has something of primitive clearness of statement, combined with Van Gogh’s method of laying on the paint. Mr. Drummond, without renouncing the truth of his impression, brings a poetic vision to bear upon his rendering of St. James’s Park. The tall, dingy blocks of flats in the background assume the fantastic beauty of some Arabian Nights Palace. Mr. Bevan is still fascinated by the Horse Mart, but has nothing new to tell us. Both he and Mr. W. Ratcliffe are among those who restrict their palettes to a scheme of purple and green, which is apt to become very wearisome.

How to cite

Author unknown, in The Observer, 22 December 1912, in Helena Bonett, Ysanne Holt, Jennifer Mundy (eds.), The Camden Town Group in Context, Tate Research Publication, May 2012,, accessed 28 May 2024.