The Camden Town Group in Context

ISBN 978-1-84976-385-1

Douglas Fox Pitt Concert on the West Pier, Brighton c.1916-18

The grand concert hall on Brighton’s West Pier opened in 1916. Fox Pitt’s watercolour probably depicts a daytime orchestra concert, with charcoal outlines emphasising the iron girders supporting the hall’s roof. Made during the First World War, the painting shows a number of empty seats and a loosely arranged audience including men who may be above the age of military conscription.
Douglas Fox Pitt 1864–1922
Concert on the West Pier, Brighton
c.1916–18
Charcoal and watercolour on paper
233 x 305 mm
Inscribed in pencil ‘The West Pier. Brighton’ bottom centre right and ‘D.F.P.’ bottom right of image
Presented by Miss Patience Scott 1924
N03994

Entry

This picture has formerly been dated in Tate catalogues c.1911–18, but it must post-date 1916 as this was when the concert hall opened on the West Pier. Fox Pitt moved to Brighton in 1911, and remained there until 1918 when he moved to Thorpe in Surrey. The painting of Concert on the West Pier, Brighton appears therefore to date from the years 1916–18.
Douglas Fox Pitt 'Concert on the West Pier, Brighton' c.1918
Fig.1
Douglas Fox Pitt
Concert on the West Pier, Brighton c.1918
Royal Pavilion and Museum, Brighton and Hove
Reproduced with the kind permission of The Royal Pavilion and Museums (Brighton & Hove)
Brighton’s West Pier recorded larger numbers of visitors in this period. In 1910–11 nearly 1.5 million people paid to go through the turnstile. During the First World War attendance fell off to a low point of 894,000 in 1915–16, but this recovered after the war’s end; in 1918–19 two million people were recorded. Between 1914 and 1916 the West Pier’s covered bandstand was demolished. An eight-sided concert hall was built in its place, constructed around a skeleton of cast-iron arches which elegantly spanned the inner space without columns. The hall had capacity to seat 1,400 people. The inaugural concert took place on 20 April 1916 with a performance by the King’s Royal Rifles silver band, made up of wounded men and those physically exempted from combat. The performers in Fox Pitt’s watercolour are not wearing military uniform, and include women performers such as the pianist, and so it does not depict this grand occasion. The empty seats among the audience would also support this. Instead, he appears to show a daytime concert with those in the audience made up of women and those men beyond the age of military conscription, more visible in the final oil version of the composition (fig.1). The stand in front of the conductor bearing the number ‘4’ visible in the watercolour was used to indicate which item on the programme the orchestra was playing.1 The girders which supported the domed roof have a certain resonance in Fox Pitt’s watercolour with works such as Harold Gilman’s painting of Leeds Market c.1913 (Tate N04273, fig.2), and this may have exerted some conscious or unconscious influence over him in planning his own work. Gilman’s painting was exhibited at the 1915 London Group exhibition, and it was probably there that it was bought by Fox Pitt’s friend Walter Taylor. Taylor and Fox Pitt were on friendly terms and for a time shared living accommodation together in Brighton, and so it is highly likely that Fox Pitt was familiar with Leeds Market. Such architectural elements were also a characteristic of Charles Ginner’s paintings, with which Fox Pitt would have been familiar through his viewing of the Camden Town and London group exhibitions. A further, more distant artistic connection could be made to the theatre paintings of Edgar Degas. The proximity of the audience and musicians in such works by Degas have only a distant echo in Fox Pitt’s concert scene, but he is likely to have seen such works or to have discussed them with Walter Sickert or Spencer Gore. As Fox Pitt would also have been aware, Gore himself had also painted the exterior of the West Pier in two oil paintings in 1913 during a family visit to Taylor, Brighton Pier (Southampton Art Gallery)2 and The West Pier, Brighton (private collection).3
Harold Gilman 'Leeds Market' c.1913
Fig.2
Harold Gilman
Leeds Market c.1913
Tate N04273
By November 1916 the West Pier had its own orchestra performing in the hall, and it seems likely that this is the group of players that Fox Pitt shows. The performances in the concert hall were an important source of revenue for the company that owned the West Pier. Before its construction the promenade pier derived around sixty per cent of its income from turnstile revenue. But by 1920, thirty-four per cent came from entrance charges and forty-three per cent from theatre and concert hall tickets.4
Fox Pitt was a close associate of the Camden Town Group and a collector of their pictures. But in the simplicity and unfussiness of his draughtsmanship and his use of bright colours he also shared a stylistic affinity with their working methods. Sickert commented on him in a letter dated 10 October 1913 to Nan Hudson, noting the old-fashioned nature of his clothing: ‘I saw a lovely etching of yours in Fox Pitt’s little house in Brighton. That man is rather touching. He wears old pea jackets of the eighties over his no longer 1880 tum to buy our pictures!’5 In the introduction he wrote to the memorial exhibition for Fox Pitt held at the Public Art Gallery in Brighton in 1923, James Bolivar Manson summarised how he fitted into the circle of artists around him:
Douglas Fox-Pitt, whose work has a personal charm and method of its own, was one of those artists who belonged to the transition period between established academic art and the modern school. He was undoubtedly influenced by the modern growth around him, and he followed with sympathetic interest the development of modern ideas in painting, but his own work proceeded strictly along the lines of personal conviction. He made no surrender to the demands of modernity for the sake of réclame ... He took a keen interest in most forms of mental activity, and he expressed his views, which were somewhat unconventional, with courage and vigour. He was a staunch friend, kindly and shrewd.6
In common with a number of drawings from this period, Fox Pitt has drawn the outlines of the forms in charcoal without any tonal shading. He has then tinted the areas enclosed by the outline with solid blocks of watercolour. Fox Pitt made another version of Concert on the West Pier, Brighton, identical except for having no application of watercolour. Although neither is squared for transfer, both appear to be studies for the oil painting that is in Brighton Museum and Art Gallery (see fig.1), a very rare excursion in oils by the artist.

Robert Upstone
July 2009

Notes

1
Information from Professor Fred Gray, University of Sussex.
2
Reproduced in Modern Painters: The Camden Town Group, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2008 (75).
3
Reproduced in Wendy Baron, Perfect Moderns: The Camden Town Group, Aldershot 2000, pl.24.
4
For this and preceding data see Fred Gray, Walking on Water: The West Pier Story, Brighton 1998.
5
Walter Sickert, letter to Nan Hudson, 10 October 1913, Tate Archive TGA 9125/5, no.69.
6
James Bolivar Manson, ‘Fox-Pitt’, in Works by the Late Colonel Goff and the Late Douglas Fox-Pitt, exhibition catalogue, Public Art Gallery, Brighton 1923, pp.13–14.

How to cite

Robert Upstone, ‘Concert on the West Pier, Brighton c.1916–18 by Douglas Fox Pitt’, catalogue entry, July 2009, in Helena Bonett, Ysanne Holt, Jennifer Mundy (eds.), The Camden Town Group in Context, Tate Research Publication, May 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/camden-town-group/douglas-fox-pitt-concert-on-the-west-pier-brighton-r1136455, accessed 14 November 2018.