The Camden Town Group in Context

ISBN 978-1-84976-385-1

Douglas Fox Pitt The Stafford Gallery 1912

The setting of this painting is the Stafford Gallery in London. Fox Pitt’s elevated viewpoint from the stair looks down onto a vermilion floor and a lone female viewer, draped in fox fur, taking in an exhibition of pictures by the Scottish Colourist J.D. Fergusson. Fox Pitt’s commemoration of Fergusson’s progressive painting could be read as an endorsement of the avant-garde.
Douglas Fox Pitt 1864–1922
The Stafford Gallery
1912
Graphite, charcoal and watercolour on paper
488 x 405 mm
Inscribed by the artist in pencil ‘D Fox Pitt’ and ‘Stafford Galleries | London’ bottom left and ‘98’ bottom right
Presented by Sarah Fox-Pitt and Anthony Pitt Rivers 2009
T12995

Entry

Although he was never one of its formal constituents, Douglas Fox Pitt was part of the circle around the Camden Town Group. When they disbanded and reconvened as the more radical London Group in 1913 – containing the advanced modern elements of David Bomberg, Jacob Epstein and the vorticists – Fox Pitt became a founder member. His own art nevertheless followed the progressive but still conservative figurative style established by the Camden Town painters, most notably adopting their bright, post-impressionist palette. Fox Pitt’s pictures of street scenes and city landscapes to some degree also recall Camden Town Group subject matter. A man of independent means, he worked generally in watercolour, and his pictures became known through a series of London exhibitions of scenes painted on foreign travels in India, Morocco and elsewhere. Closer to home, views of Brighton formed the most common subject in his art.
This watercolour of the Stafford Gallery, however, is a rare document of an early exhibition by the Scottish Colourist J.D. Fergusson at a London venue known for its displays of avant-garde art around 1912. The Stafford Gallery was a short-lived centre for the showing of modern French art. It held one of the first exhibitions of Paul Gauguin’s paintings in 1911, and this was commemorated by Spencer Gore in his well-known painting Gauguins and Connoisseurs 1911 (fig.1). Other shows included an exhibition of Pablo Picasso drawings in 1912, and early London exhibitions of Gustave Courbet, Camille Pissarro and Paul Cézanne.
Spencer Gore 'Gauguins and Connoisseurs' 1911
Fig.1
Spencer Gore
Gauguins and Connoisseurs 1911
© Private collection
Fox Pitt’s watercolour illustrates a group of paintings from the Exhibition of Pictures by J.D. Fergusson at the gallery from 9 March 1912. The central picture in the watercolour is number two in the catalogue, La Dame aux Oranges c.1908–9 (whereabouts unknown)1, which may depict Fergusson’s friend, the American artist Anne Estelle Rice (1879–1959);2 to its right is number three, Le Manteau Chinois 1909 (Fergusson Gallery, Perth);3 and on the left is number one, The Red Shawl 1908 (University of Stirling).4 Interestingly, in the exhibition catalogue it states the prices for these three paintings: The Red Shawl is £500, La Dame aux Oranges is £300, and Le Manteau Chinois is £500. This is far more than any Camden Town Group painter ever charged for one of their pictures. If the numbering in the catalogue follows the exhibition, the obscured paintings on the right of the watercolour may be numbers four to seven: Le Valeur de la Science (£200), Une Rue, Royan (£50), The Spanish Shawl (£200) and Le Compotier (£40). The art critic Frank Rutter later said of the central painting: ‘A wealth of accessories in La Dame aux Oranges orchestrated the curves and contours peculiar to the sitter into a rhythmic fugue of line and colour’.5
The viewpoint of Fox Pitt’s watercolour is from the vantage point of the stairs down to the gallery, which can be seen at the top of the picture. Evidently, he utilised the same spot as Gore had done – most likely on a landing – and the watercolour’s standpoint and overall composition is identical to Gore’s painting, including the small sofa and motif of looking down on the figure beneath.
Despite the essentially traditional nature of Fox Pitt’s work he was nevertheless a staunch apologist and ally of the avant-garde. In 1910 he wrote to the New Age to defend Roger Fry’s controversial post-impressionist exhibition:
We have been told by fashionable portrait painters and timid art critics that the paintings now shown at the Grafton Galleries are ‘hysterical daubs’. The gibes and sneers of prejudiced people will not kill the Post-Impressionists any more than similar treatment killed Whistler, Manet, or Monet. To be unable to see any beauty of colour in Cézanne or Gauguin suggests a defective aesthetic sense ... all art movements have grown out of differences. It is when these differences are emphasised that you get new schools, and these sometimes make for progress.6
As an artist who had lived in Paris and been exposed to the most recent cubist developments in modern art, Fergusson was one of the most advanced members of the London avant-garde. Fox Pitt’s commemoration of the showing of his pictures at the Stafford Gallery again appears to ally himself with the progressive nature of Fergusson’s art, and also raises its significance as the subject of art as an event of significance for the development of contemporary culture. This, too, had been an aspect of Gore’s painting of the Gauguin exhibition.

Robert Upstone and Helena Bonett
October 2009

Notes

1
The title is given as La Dâme aux Oranges in the catalogue.
2
Jenny Kinnear, Art Officer, Fergusson Gallery, email to Tate, 1 October 2009.
3
Reproduced in The Scottish Colourists 1900–1930: F.C.B. Cadell, J.D. Fergusson, G.L. Hunter, S.J. Peploe, exhibition catalogue, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh 2000 (27).
4
Reproduced at University of Stirling, http://www.artcol.stir.ac.uk/collection2.html, accessed 24 January 2011.
5
Frank Rutter, Some Contemporary Artists, London 1922, p.163.
6
Douglas Fox Pitt, ‘Letters to the Editor: Post-Impressionism’, New Age, 15 December 1910, p.166.

How to cite

Robert Upstone and Helena Bonett, ‘The Stafford Gallery 1912 by Douglas Fox Pitt’, catalogue entry, October 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-the-stafford-gallery-r1129516, accessed 18 November 2018.