The Camden Town Group in Context

ISBN 978-1-84976-385-1

Author unknown, ‘The Camden Town Group. Interesting Pictures’

Daily Telegraph, 22 June 1911, p.8.

The exhibition at the Carfax Gallery of pictures and studies by a number of young painters of “advanced” views is an interesting show under a very unattractive name. Was it not in the late Sir W. S. Gilbert’s “Ruddigore” that ebullience of temper was at once reduced to a dead calm by the mere sound of the uncharming word “Basingstoke”? In the same way we find it difficult to understand how this valiant young advanced guard can keep up their spirits in the depressing atmosphere created by such a designation at “The Camden Town Group.” Yet, while all that glitters is not gold, nor true colour all that vibrates and scintillates, there is displayed in the work of several among these unconventional painters bravery and skill in modes still new – and that without undue defiance of the moderate man. Except in one instance, with which it is hardly necessary to deal, they are not, indeed, Post-Impressionists seeking to impose their law upon a surprised public, but rather followers of the elder school founded by Claude Monet and Manet, and some of them Neo-Impressionists of what may be called the spot-and-blot type, which is not quite the same as the vibriste or pointilliste method that so long has, and in a measure still does, hold the field.
 But there is not much, after all, in labels, or, indeed, in rigid sub-divisions of modernity, seeing that in practice they invariably overlap at one point or another. Let us see what this avant-garde of Camden Town – since thus it desires to be designated! – has to say. Mr. Augustus John honours the group without exactly belonging to it. His two studies, “Llyn Cynlog” and “Nant-ddu,” are frank and brilliant enough, but in comparison with some things here seem to lack the envelopment of atmosphere. Mr. John’s mode in the treatment of landscape is the monumentally decorative, and, rightly or wrongly, he eschews effects of momentariness and the deliberate simulation of atmospheric effect. Mr. Walter Sickert, the most distinguished member at one time of what may be styled the Whistlerian group, changes his note completely, showing here a technique much more akin to that of the French masters. If we cannot but wonder at his choice of subjects more worthy of the “Police News” than of a picture gallery of high rank, such as this is, we may not refuse him the admiration due to work bold and masterly of its kind. “The Camden Town Murder – Series No. 1 and Series No. 2” are the paintings to which we refer. In both a sinister being sits quietly watching in the dim, struggling light of morning the nude figure of a woman stretched out on a miserable couch. Mr. Sickert here compasses something that the impressionists very rarely aim at, and still more rarely attain. He combines the dramatic with the merely visual impression.
M. Lucien Pissarro is an impressionist pure and simple, and one of the calmer and more objective order. His work – especially the brilliant “View of Colchester,” bathed throughout in tempered sunshine – may be sincerely admired up to a certain point, yet does not prove in any special way stimulating. Alone in this group, and in a way antagonistic to it, is Mr. Lightfoot, whose work, if not the most accomplished, is assuredly the most interesting that the exhibition has to show. His group, “Mother and Child,” and especially his study of a pretty, wistful, spoilt schoolboy, entitled “Frank,” have certain qualities of style, as well as of unforced pathos, which are by no means common in the ultra-modern art of to-day. It is to be hoped that this youthful painter will not allow himself to be drawn from the fair path upon which he has now entered, either by excess of praise or by the influence of brothers in art of more “advanced” views. This little figure, “Frank,” is charming in pose and design, subtle in rhythm – attractive, , altogther [sic] in its simplicity and directness of appeal. Mr. H. Lamb will disappoint those, who, like ourselves, saw in his contributions to the New English Art Club misdirected power, and an element of something like grandeur. These studies, “Brittany Peasant Boy” and “Boy’s Head,” are well and incisively drawn, but lack atmosphere and that true significance – that other atmosphere – which the simplest counterfeit of a human being may possess, if only it be truly conceived and not merely “studied from the life.” The “Man Fishing,” though it has in its rigidity a certain loftiness, is too small in treatment; it wants – perhaps the painter will have none of it! – that pathos which arises naturally out of the patient struggle of man with Nature – just that pathos which so ennobles the Pauvre Pêcheur of Puvis de Chavannes.
Mr. Spencer Gore, an impressionist of the French type, following in the footsteps of Monet, but also on occasion recalling Raffaëlli, has little to say that is new, but realises that little with fluency and the ease that comes of routine accomplishment. The salons contain much work of this character, and in France one has come to look for it as a matter of course. Somewhat apart from his confrères is Mr. Walter Bayes, who inclines towards Post-Impressionism of a moderate order; less, however, in what he exhibits here than in his contributions to other shows of the year. Quite delightful is his free adaptation of the Pompeian style of decoration in a “Panel for Piano Front,” while his “Design for part of a stage scene for the Haymarket Theatre” – a décor Hispano-Moorish in character – is of its kind masterly. We have yet to learn what Herr Reinhardt has taught the Berlinese, and through them all Germany – that is the fact, proved by still recent experience, that the drama is less well served by unintelligent splendour in the setting of plays than by an intelligent sympathy, on the part of the stage artist, with their true content and meaning. Startlingly brilliant, yet not garish in colour, frank and forcible as visual impressions of Nature in its summer vesture, are the “Battersea Park” and “The Sunlit Wall” of Mr. C. Ginner. Another valiant and well-skilled impressionist of the French type is Mr. Ratcliffe, whose capacity is shown in “The Window Seat,” “Haystacks,” and “Graven Images.” Frank yet subtle in its light, delicate harmony, moderate and true in its impressionistic rendering of a curious effect, is “The Snow Scene,” by Mr. H. Gilman, who contributes also the vigorous study, “Head of an Old Woman.” Enough has surely been said to demonstrate that this display of modern British painting, supplementary to, yet wholly differing from, that which flourishes under the banner of the New English Art Club, is one which no one interested in the onward march of contemporary artists can afford to neglect.

How to cite

Author unknown, ‘The Camden Town Group. Interesting Pictures’, in Daily Telegraph, 22 June 1911, p.8, in Helena Bonett, Ysanne Holt, Jennifer Mundy (eds.), The Camden Town Group in Context, Tate Research Publication, May 2012,, accessed 27 May 2024.