The Camden Town Group in Context

ISBN 978-1-84976-385-1

Charles Ginner La Vieille Balayeuse, Dieppe 1913

Ginner’s painting depicts a crowd gathered in the Fish Market beside the Avant Port in Dieppe. In the centre of the work the old street sweeper of the title brushes the road. On the left, an old fisherwoman stands with hands on hips, carrying a large fish basket on her back, while to the right a young, middle class woman wearing a bright red jacket looks in the opposite direction. Characteristically, Ginner has painted the foreground and background in a consistent level of detail.
Charles Ginner 1878–1952
La Vieille Balayeuse, Dieppe
Oil paint on canvas
630 x 480 mm
Inscribed ‘C. GINNER’ bottom right
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to Tate 2010



The title of this painting translates from the French as The Old Street Sweeper, Dieppe. The line of a tall lamp-post leads the viewer’s eye down towards the sweeper, positioned in the centre foreground of the composition, as the focus of the painting. Behind her a small crowd is gathered on the pavement; the heads of a few people behind the group face outwards, suggesting that they are selling produce, most probably fish, to the rest. The presence of the electric light dominating the middle ground in favour of the smaller gas lamp suggests an encroaching modernity to this traditional market scene.
Characteristically for Ginner, the fore-, middle- and backgrounds are painted in almost the same level of detail and focus, with tiles on the roofs in the background individually articulated. A sense of depth is created instead by the use of pale hues in the background in contrast to stronger colours in the foreground. Influenced by Vincent van Gogh, Ginner often used complementary colours in his work. In this case, purple and yellow are the most prominent, while the bright red of the young woman’s jacket on the right complements the green of the apron of a small girl who stands in the crowd, thus uniting the two; their poses mirror one another also.
The location of the scene is the Fish Market beside the Avant Port where the Arc Poissonnerie and the Quai Henri IV meet in the town of Dieppe in northern France.1 The houses in the background on the Quai Henri IV are depicted accurately, as can be seen in photographs from the time.2 The sweeper is using a typical French street broom made out of tied twigs of birch or broom. Traditionally, pavements would be swept in a swinging gesture, picking up water from the gutter to brush the damp head onto the pavement in a rhythmic fashion.3
The scene encompasses a diverse range of people in age, class and work in a similar fashion to Ginner’s Piccadilly Circus of 1912 (Tate T03096). To the left of the painting an old fisherwoman in traditional working clothes and apron stands with hands on hips facing out of the picture with a large fish basket on her back; on the right a young, middle class woman in modern smart clothes, who may be a tourist, faces in the opposite direction. Together with the sweeper, they create a triangular formation. The casual poses of the other figures, with men in working clothes standing with hands in pockets, creates an atmosphere of working class life similar to Robert Bevan’s paintings of crowds at horse sales in such works as Horse Sale at the Barbican 1912 (Tate N04750, fig.1) and Under the Hammer 1914 (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool).4
Robert Bevan 'Horse Sale at the Barbican' 1912
Robert Bevan
Horse Sale at the Barbican 1912
Tate N04750
Charles Ginner 'Le Quai Duquesne, Dieppe' 1913
Charles Ginner
Le Quai Duquesne, Dieppe 1913
Private collection, Vancouver
© Estate of Charles Ginner
Photo ©

According to his notebooks, La Vieille Balayeuse is one of three works Ginner painted on his visit to the Normandy town in 1913.5 The others are The Trawlers, Dieppe (whereabouts unknown) and Le Quai Duquesne, Dieppe (fig.2). The latter depicts the Quai Duquesne, which is at the south end of the Arc Poissonnerie, so very close to the location shown in La Vieille Balayeuse. The painting shows a view towards the church of St Jacques and was probably painted from the opposite side of the Bassin Duquesne. While the focus of the Tate painting is the figures in a crowd, Le Quai Duquesne presents a vertical cross-section of the street, including a train (at the time the train from Paris ran right up to the Quai Henri IV to a station called the Gare Maritime). In his notebooks Ginner recorded that he painted pochades, or small colour sketches, for both of these works (the pochade for Le Quai Duquesne is in the collection of Museums Sheffield).6 According to the notebooks, the three paintings were shown at the same exhibitions over the next few years.


In the early nineteenth century, Dieppe became an important destination for artists and later a fashionable resort for tourists. Ginner’s fellow Camden Town Group colleague, Walter Sickert, was a resident of the town and its environs for many years and visited often throughout his life. Sickert drew and painted many architectural scenes, such as Les Arcades de la Poissonnerie, Dieppe c.1900 (Tate N05045), and people in interiors, such as Female Figures in the Café Suisse, Dieppe c.1914 (Tate Archive TGA 8120/3/16), but he produced no depictions of crowds outside as Ginner does here.
Charles Ginner 'Evening, Dieppe' 1911
Charles Ginner
Evening, Dieppe 1911
Private collection, by courtesy of MacConnal-Mason Gallery
© Estate of Charles Ginner
Photo © MacConnal-Mason Gallery
Picturesque depictions of working fisherwomen wearing traditional costume in Normandy and neighbouring Brittany were common at this time. John Singer Sargent’s Oyster Gatherers of Cancale (En route pour la pêche) 1878 (Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC)7 is one of the largest and most famous, with a pleasant arrangement of women and children at work. The British artist William Lee-Hankey (1869–1952) painted a similar scene to Ginner’s in his Fish Market, Dieppe (Manchester City Art Galleries),8 which depicts working people carrying or holding fish baskets with a large crowd standing by the Dieppe arches in the background. While Lee-Hankey’s depiction is certainly more realistic than Sargent’s, Ginner’s contrasts with both in its unsentimental portrayal of working life. His sweeper and fisherwoman have bent backs, sagging breasts and stand in masculine poses with their feet wide apart, while Sargent’s figures have dainty legs and ankles, straight backs and pretty faces.
Ginner was a native of France, having been born in Cannes to English and Scottish parents. He trained in Paris before moving to London in 1910 where he met the artists who went on to form the Camden Town Group. With one of these artists, Harold Gilman, Ginner visited Dieppe on their way back from Paris in 1911. On that occasion the pair painted works including Gilman’s Le Pont Tournant (The Swing Bridge) (private collection)9 and Ginner’s complementary townscapes, The Sunlit Quay (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool)10 and Evening, Dieppe (fig.3). These were all exhibited at the second Camden Town Group show in December that year. La Vieille Balayeuse was painted on another trip to Dieppe in 1913.

Exhibition and reception

Ginner kept records of all of his pictures, including where they were exhibited and to whom they were sold.11 La Vieille Balayeuse, Dieppe was shown at two key exhibitions of the period: Exhibition of the Work of English Post-Impressionists, Cubists and Others at the Brighton Public Art Galleries from December 1913 to January 1914 and the first London Group show at the Goupil Gallery in March 1914. The Brighton show was organised by Spencer Gore with the original title Exhibition by the Camden Town Group and Others, but it ultimately became a platform for the ‘Cubists’, in particular Wyndham Lewis, to promote their work. The London Group was formed around this time as an expansion of the Camden Town Group to include more than its sixteen, all-male painters.
In a review of the London Group exhibition, the influential critic T.E. Hulme stated:
Mr. Charles Ginner’s ‘La Balayeuse’ is the best picture of his that I have seen as yet. His peculiar method is here extraordinarily successful in conveying the sordid feeling of the subject.12
Hulme had recently begun writing about modern art for the New Age, promoting the more abstract movement in painting and sculpture that became vorticism later that year. Although Hulme is usually associated with the vorticists, the groupings were more interconnected than commonly perceived. Ginner was a frequent visitor to Hulme’s Tuesday night salons at 67 Frith Street, where art was commonly debated.13 Such debates may have inspired Ginner to publicly proclaim his views in his manifesto on ‘Neo-Realism’, which was published in the New Age on 1 January 1914. In this article, Ginner extolled realism in painting, decrying much artistic output as merely ‘academic movements ... based on formula’,14 including the new cubist work that he saw as an imitation of Paul Cézanne, and therefore formulaic. In contrast, he underlined the need for the painter to have a ‘direct intercourse with Nature’, writing:
Each age has its landscape, its atmosphere, its cities, its people. Realism, loving Life, loving its Age, interprets its Epoch by extracting from it the very essence of all it contains of great or of weak, of beautiful or of sordid, according to the individual temperament. Realism is thus not only a present intimate revelation of its own time, but becomes a document for future ages. It attaches itself to history.15
Ginner thus presented his argument for realism. However, it was precisely the documentary facts that Hulme found troubling in his view of Camden Town Group paintings:
They are full of detail which is entirely accidental in character, and only justified by the fact that these accidents did actually occur in the particular piece of nature which was being painted. One feels a repugnance to such accidents and desires painting where nothing is accidental, where all the contours are closely knit together into definite structural shapes.16
In this fashion, Hulme articulated an argument for abstraction over realism. Ginner’s article on Neo-Realism had in fact pushed Hulme towards articulating this more radical view of abstraction.17 On 12 February 1914 Hulme wrote a long article in response to Ginner’s manifesto, finding that:
Two statements are confused: (1) that the source of imagination must be nature, and (2) the consequence illegitimately drawn from this, that the resulting work must be realistic, and based on natural forms.18
Instead, Hulme stated that:
It is true, then, that an artist can only keep his work alive by research into nature, but that does not prove that realism is the only legitimate form of art.
  Both realism and abstraction, then, can only be engendered out of nature, but while the first’s only idea of living seems to be that of hanging on to its progenitor, the second cuts its umbilical cord.19
Ginner’s ideas on Neo-Realism, together with his detailed style of painting, both inspired Hulme to articulate a new view on art that was to be highly influential among their contemporaries.

Related works and ownership

Charles Ginner 'List of Paintings, Drawings, Etc. of Charles Ginner. Book I' 1910-18
Charles Ginner
List of Paintings, Drawings, Etc. of Charles Ginner. Book I 1910–18
Tate Archive TGA 9319/1

Two studies were made for this work, a drawing and a pochade or small sketch in colour (see fig.4). Ginner recorded that the pochade was exhibited at the Camden Town Group retrospective at the Redfern Gallery in 1939, and was sold for 25 guineas to the artist Edward Le Bas (1904–1966), who had painted a portrait of Ginner in 1930 (private collection).20 The drawing was shown at Ginner’s joint exhibition with Gilman at the Goupil Gallery in April 1914 and at the New English Art Club in November to December 1914; the owner of the drawing was the artist Ruth Doggett (1881–1974), who owned several of his works, and had also shown at the Exhibition of the Work of English Post-Impressionists, Cubists and Others in Brighton. Doggett was drawn and painted by Gilman around 1915 and Ginner later wrote an introduction to the catalogue of an exhibition of her works at the Fine Art Society in 1934.21
As well as showing La Vieille Balayeuse, Dieppe at four group exhibitions, Ginner recorded that it was also on display at the Fitzroy Street and Cumberland Market group ‘At Homes’, where prospective customers were invited to view the work in private. Ginner gradually decreased its price from £30 at two exhibitions in 1914 to £25 at the Cumberland Market Group exhibition in 1915, but, despite this, it still failed to secure a buyer. He eventually exchanged it with his fellow Camden Town and Cumberland Market group colleague, Robert Bevan, for his painting The Town Field, Horsgate 1914 (Reading Museum Service)22 at some point after the final recorded exhibition in 1915. Following Bevan’s death in 1925, Ginner remained good friends with his wife, the artist Stanislawa de Karlowska, and their son, Robert A. Bevan, throughout his life.

Helena Bonett
August 2011


A map of Dieppe is reproduced in The Dieppe Connection: The Town and its Artists from Turner to Braque, catalogue for the exhibition Rendez-vous à Dieppe, Brighton Museum and Art Gallery 1992, [p.93].
For example, see a photograph of the Avant Port from the turn of the century, reproduced ibid., pp.88–9. The location of this painting is in the centre of the photograph on p.88.
Information from Françoise Durrance, Gallery Educator, Royal Academy of Arts, London.
Reproduced at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool,, accessed 7 December 2010.
Tate Archive TGA 9319/1, pp.LXVIII–LXX. See fig.4.
Tate Archive TGA 9319/1, pp.XI, LXX. See fig.4. Le Quai Duquesne pochade is reproduced at Your Paintings,, accessed 10 August 2011.
Reproduced at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC,, accessed 28 December 2010.
Reproduced in Brighton Museum and Art Gallery 1992 (45).
Reproduced in Wendy Baron, Perfect Moderns: A History of the Camden Town Group, Aldershot and Vermont 2000, no.11.
Reproduced in The Painters of Camden Town 1905–1920, exhibition catalogue, Christie’s, London 1988 (91).
These notebooks are in the Tate Archive, TGA 9319.
T.E. Hulme, ‘Modern Art – III. The London Group’, New Age, 26 March 1914, p.661.
Rebecca Beasley, ‘“A definite meaning”: The Art Criticism of T.E. Hulme’, in Edward P. Comentale and Andrzej Gasiorek (eds.), T.E. Hulme and the Question of Modernism, Aldershot 2006, p.59.
Charles Ginner, ‘Neo-Realism’, New Age, 1 January 1914, p.271.
Ibid., pp.271, 272.
Hulme 26 March 1914, p.661.
Beasley 2006, p.68.
T.E. Hulme, ‘Modern Art – II. A Preface Note and Neo-Realism’, New Age, 12 February 1914, p.468.
Reproduced in James Beechey, ‘Edward Le Bas’, Charleston Magazine, no.16, Autumn/Winter 1997, p.43.
‘August in England’: Paintings by Ruth Doggett, Fine Art Society, London, February–March 1934.
Reproduced in Baron 2000, no.58.

How to cite

Helena Bonett, ‘La Vieille Balayeuse, Dieppe 1913 by Charles Ginner’, catalogue entry, August 2011, in Helena Bonett, Ysanne Holt, Jennifer Mundy (eds.), The Camden Town Group in Context, Tate Research Publication, May 2012,, accessed 23 April 2024.