The Camden Town Group in Context

ISBN 978-1-84976-385-1

Charles Lewis Hind, ‘Hedgehog Art. At the Stafford & Carfax Galleries’

The Daily Chronicle, 8 July 1911.

At the Stafford & Carfax Galleries.
In the afternoon I was troubled by Mr. Walter Sickert’s pictures at the Stafford Gallery. In the twilight, seeking light, I re-read a passage by John Stuart Mill, in which it is stated that every human action, including, of course, painting, has three aspects:– 1. The Moral, according to which we approve or disapprove; 2. The Æsthetic, according to which we admire or despise; 3. The Sympathetic, according to which we love, pity or dislike. Try as I would, Mr. Sickert’s paintings would not conform neatly to any of these aspects. I approve and disapprove of his pictures. I admire them. I dislike them. This confession plays havoc with Mill’s analysis of the aspects of human action, and may be compared to the fit of indigestion that a wild beast might experience from swallowing a hedgehog. Perhaps it would be better to leave the hedgehog severely alone, saving oneself the pain of the prickles, but also losing the enjoyment of such succulent parts as a hedgehog may possess. It would be easier to look at the hedgehog cursorily and to disapprove absolutely.
Those who disapprove of the many manifestations of Hedgehog Art in our midst are in a vast majority. In the evening of the day when I had been troubled by Walter Sickert and J. S. Mill, it was my pleasure to listen to a speech by the President of the Royal Academy, who replied for Painting at the annual dinner of the Royal Institute of British Architects. The President has no doubts. He disapproves, I might say despises, Hedgehog Art, for in his speech he lingered with emphasis on a sentence culminating in a reflection on the “too sordid extravagances of certain foreign painters.” The reference to Post-Impressionism was obvious. But Mr. Walter Sickert is not a Post-Impressionist. He is Sickert. And the members of the Camden Town Group, who are holding an exhibition at the Carfax Gallery, with Mr. Sickert among them, are not Post-Impressionists. They dislike the term. We all dislike the term. Neither would they approve of Hedgehogists. What remains? There is really nothing better than Expressionists to describe the work of these men and women who are striving to express in paint their own vision, their own feeling, with an anarchical disregard for the greatness of the great or the conventions of the middling.
Mr. Sickert stands alone. Tortuously, through murky ways, he works, building, I was going to say mole-like, the edifice of his art. I confess, frankly, that at first sight his 40 exhibits at the Stafford Gallery distressed me. The contempt for surface beauty, the muddy colour, the horrid subjects, their woeful air, gave me the feeling that the hedgehog had effectually “rolled itself into a ball so as to present the spines outwardly in every direction.” I excluded the architectural pieces chiefly in pastel. They are beautiful. But the oils – the Sickertian interpretations of dim, dreary, unbeautiful corners of life. Unbeautiful! Well, I have lived long enough to distrust my cast-iron ideas about beauty, and to know that there are many aspects of life apparently unbeautiful, that reveal other sides to the seeker than mere conventional beauty, and that the book of life does not close with the things that jump to the eye, proclaiming their beauty at a glance.
The herbaceous border is always pleasant to look upon. It needs an effort to pass from the herbaceous border to the hedgehog. I gave Mr. Sickert’s works an hour and the hedgehog unrolled. I found in many of the pictures significance, mystery, harmony in apparent disharmony – above all significance. His “Bridge of Sighs” has all the secretive sadness of a Méryon; his “Mamma mia poareta” is, in its sad sincerity, first cousin to a Cézanne; his red woman “Portrait” the world would call unfinished. This means that the artist has given essentials, not externals. I have seen the Sickert exhibition three times. One does not tire of these pictures. One rarely tires of works whose aim is expression, not merely conventional beauty. They rouse dormant faculties in the observer; they stimulate. And (this in the ear) it is said that worldly connoisseurs are buying Sickerts for a “rise.”
Do not ask me to defend the subject of two of Mr. Sickert’s contributions to the Camden Town Group at the Carfax Gallery, called “The Camden Town Murder Series.” But the rendering is terribly subtle and haunting. I can think of nobody who would care to buy them except, perhaps, Mr. George R. Sims. The members of this group, which in independence of vision is akin to the New English Art Club in its early days, fluctuate between hedgehog and herbaceous border art. Mr. H. Lamb shows nothing of the awful intensity of his “Dead Peasant” at the New English Art Club, but everything that passes before his primitive vision is vital. He is a Pre-Raphaelite in an age of aeroplanes.
Two of the most interesting personalities in the Camden Town Group are Mr. Spencer F. Gore and Mr. R. P. Bevan. Those who seek in Mr. Gore’s work “the extreme or revolutionary modernity” will be disappointed. It is dainty but strong, and he has a fine sense of design. Mr. Bevan sings, in bright colours, stained on rough canvas, the passing of the cab horse. There is no grief, no sentiment, only a strong power of characterisation and vivid colour.
How shall I finish these notes on Expressionism? An artist really needs neither commendation nor condemnation. His work should be his joy, and there’s an end of it. Mr. Sickert and this Camden Town Group are merely being themselves, are daring to announce that he who really sees and feels and thinks must, if he be honest, express his own individual sight and feeling of life. He may fall into a category; he may not. We may like what he does; we may not. It is his business to go on being himself. If he be a humbug he will be found out; if he be a prophet he has his own interior great reward in the moment eternal of creation, even if success and plaudits never come his way, and his art be likened to a hedgehog.

How to cite

Charles Lewis Hind, ‘Hedgehog Art. At the Stafford & Carfax Galleries’, in The Daily Chronicle, 8 July 1911, in Helena Bonett, Ysanne Holt, Jennifer Mundy (eds.), The Camden Town Group in Context, Tate Research Publication, May 2012,, accessed 28 May 2024.