The Camden Town Group in Context

ISBN 978-1-84976-385-1

Harold Gilman Canal Bridge, Flekkefjord c.1913

Harold Gilman began this work while travelling in Norway, after recording the bridge in detailed pen drawings. Figures moving across the bridge give a sense of the architectural scale. The pervasive blues of the sky and surrounding landscape are tempered by the red rooftops and the muted tangerine of the house on the right-hand side.
Harold Gilman 1876–1919
Canal Bridge, Flekkefjord
c.1913
Oil paint on canvas
464 x 615 mm
Inscribed by the artist ‘H. Gilman’ bottom right, numbered along each edge and squared for transfer
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1922
N03684

Entry

Background

Following the success of a trip to Sweden in 1912 which spurred him into a bout of creativity, the following year Gilman visited Norway and again produced a large number of pictures, both landscapes and urban scenes. He made another picture of Flekkefjord showing a street scene, which is now in a private collection.2
By comparison with most of the other Camden Town Group artists, Gilman travelled abroad quite widely. In 1894 he spent twelve months in Odessa as tutor to the children of an English family. After leaving the Slade, he went to Madrid for around a year in 1901–2, where he studied and copied Velázquez at the Prado, and where he also met and married his first wife, Grace Canedy. In 1905 they made a long visit to the United States to visit Grace’s family in Illinois and, in 1918, a few months before he died, Gilman went to Halifax, Nova Scotia, to make studies for Halifax Harbour at Sunset 1918 (National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa),3 a commission from the Canadian War Records Office. Gilman apparently considered an even more adventurous journey to find inspiration for his work. In an anecdote which is revealing both of his idealism and his initial admiration for the post-impressionist painter Paul Gauguin, Gilman reputedly put forward a proposal to his Camden Town Group colleagues that they should all go and live in the South Seas and have Arthur Clifton of the Carfax Gallery act as their agent in London. Reputedly, Spencer Gore quietly dissuaded Gilman.4
Gilman visited France on a number of occasions, and exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants from 1908 to 1910, and again in 1912 and 1913. In 1907 he stayed at Walter Sickert’s house at Neuville outside Dieppe and, most importantly, he visited Paris in late 1910 or early 1911 with his friends Charles Ginner and Frank Rutter in order to see impressionist and post-impressionist pictures. Ginner recalled how they looked at
collections such as Bernheim’s, who possessed a room entirely decorated with the works of Van Gogh, a sight unsurpassed in beauty and intensity; Durand Ruel’s collection of French Impressionists; Pellerin’s Cézannes; also the Vollard and Sagot Galleries with their Rousseaus, Picassos, Vuillards, etc.5
It was a cathartic experience for Gilman. His palette had already begun to brighten in pictures such as The Blue Blouse: Portrait of Elène Zompolides 1910 (Leeds City Art Gallery)6 and The Breakfast Table 1910 (Southampton Art Gallery).7 In part this may have been simply through exposure to the colourist tendencies already finding expression in the paintings of Gore, Ginner and Robert Bevan. But, as the art historian Andrew Causey has emphasised, another factor was the gathering repudiation of James Abbot McNeill Whistler’s belief in tonal painting and smooth surfaces,8 something that very much characterised the low-key harmony of Gilman’s paintings before 1910. Sickert, whom Gilman initially greatly respected, criticised Whistler repeatedly in print, and in 1910 published an outright and systematic rejection of his work in the Art News. This, Sickert wrote, was something he did ‘speaking for myself, and the very solid phalanx of young painters with whom I move ... To shrink from doing it would be misleading to the students I aspire to lead.’9

Influence

By the time Gilman painted Canal Bridge, Flekkefjord, he was an enthusiastic admirer of Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cézanne. Ginner recalled, however, that Gilman
did not immediately accept Van Gogh, and I can remember a long argument we had on the merits of this master. It was interesting to see that he slowly developed an intense admiration for Van Gogh, and came to look upon him as the greatest of the group of painters, Cézanne, Gauguin, etc., with which the Dutchman is associated. Gauguin, whom he at first believed in most, he considered too aesthetic and classic in spirit, though he always admired his amazing variety of design.10
Wyndham Lewis remembered of Gilman that
if you went into his room, you would find Van Gogh’s Letters at his table; you would see post cards of Van Gogh paintings beside favourites of his own hand. When he felt very pleased with a painting he had done latterly, he would hang it up in the neighbourhood of a photograph of a painting by Van Gogh.11
In addition to his admiration for van Gogh on aesthetic and artistic grounds, Rutter speculated that he identified with the Dutch artist on some more personal level, believing that
roughly handled by life, Gilman began to think for himself and take little or nothing on trust. In politics he became a Socialist with a profound dread and mistrust of society ... Van Gogh particularly appealed to him, partly because Gilman had a good deal of the Dutchman’s humanitarianism.12
Canal Bridge, Flekkefjord was clearly influenced by van Gogh, both in its vibrant palette and handling of paint. Most importantly, it appears also to refer to the several paintings van Gogh made of the Langlois Bridge at Arles,13 although Gilman’s composition does not directly copy any of them. Gilman might have known any of these pictures through reproductions, but the inspiration may have come from one in particular. It is likely he saw The Langlois Bridge (Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne)14 during his visit to Paris in 1910–11 when it was in the Bernheim Gallery, which Ginner recorded they visited.

Subject and ownership

Harold Gilman 'Study for 'Canal Bridge, Flekkefjord'' c.1913
Fig.1
Harold Gilman
Study for 'Canal Bridge, Flekkefjord' c.1913
Tate T00026
It is possible Gilman painted Canal Bridge, Flekkefjord on his return to London, but more likely that he made it while still in Norway. There are small pin holes in each corner, and depressions of paint that suggest the use of dowel separators when transporting pictures that are still wet.15 The figures on the bridge in Canal Bridge, Flekkefjord are absent from the drawing for it (Tate T00026, fig.1). They provide a sense of movement through the composition and also demonstrate scale, and their colour contrasts markedly with their surroundings.
Gilman moved to the new town of Letchworth Garden City sometime around 1908. His neighbour was Stanley Parker, the brother of Barry Parker of Parker and Unwin, the architects who developed the town. Stanley’s wife Signe (née Bergström) was Swedish, and it may have been as a result of their conversations that Gilman was inspired in 1912 to visit Sweden. Signe’s brother had bought an estate at Sundsholm in south-eastern Sweden, and when the Parkers visited him in 1913, along with William Ratcliffe, it is possible Gilman came too before moving on to Norway.16 The bridge at Flekkefjord dates from 1838, and had changed little when Gilman painted it. But in 1936 it was rebuilt and now looks very different.17 The brightly painted houses were not an invention by the artist, but an accurate account of how the town looked at this time.18
The picture’s first owner was the painter Walter Taylor (1860–1943), a founder member of the London Group and collector of a number of Gilman’s pictures including Leeds Market (Tate N04273). He accumulated a notable group of early modern French and British paintings, owning works by Henri Matisse, Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard, Raoul Dufy, Matthew Smith, Stanley Spencer and Mark Gertler. Canal Bridge, Flekkefjord was the first picture by Gilman to enter a public collection when it was bought by the Tate Gallery in 1922.

Robert Upstone
May 2009

Notes

1
Wyndham Lewis and Louis F. Fergusson, Harold Gilman: An Appreciation, London 1919, p.14.
2
Reproduced in The Painters of Camden Town 1905–1920, exhibition catalogue, Christie’s, London 1988 (128, as ‘Swedish or Norwegian Landscape’).
3
Reproduced in Jean Sutherland Boggs, The National Gallery of Canada, London 1971, no.87.
4
See Andrew Causey, ‘Harold Gilman: An Englishman and Post-Impressionism’, in Harold Gilman 1876–1919, exhibition catalogue, Arts Council, London 1981, pp.12–13.
5
Charles Ginner, ‘Harold Gilman: An Appreciation’, in Memorial Exhibition of Works by the Late Harold Gilman, exhibition catalogue, Leicester Galleries, London 1919, p.5.
6
Reproduced in Wendy Baron, Perfect Moderns: A History of the Camden Town Group, Aldershot and Vermont 2000, p.143.
7
Reproduced in Arts Council 1981 (17).
8
See Causey 1981, pp.3–8.
9
Walter Sickert, ‘Abjuro’, Art News, 3 February 1910, in Anna Gruetzner Robins (ed.), Walter Richard Sickert: The Complete Writings on Art, Oxford 2000, p.193.
10
Ginner 1919, p.5.
11
Wyndham Lewis and Louis F. Fergusson, Harold Gilman: An Appreciation, London 1919, pp.12–13.
12
Frank Rutter, ‘The Work of Harold Gilman and Spencer Gore: A Definitive Study’, Studio, vol.101, March 1931, p.207.
13
See J.-B. de la Faille, The Works of Vincent Van Gogh: His Paintings and Drawings, Amsterdam 1970, nos.397, 400, 570–1.
14
Ibid., no.570.
15
See Roy A. Perry, ‘Harold Gilman: Canal Bridge, Flekkefjord’, in Stephen Hackney (ed.), Completing the Picture: The Materials and Techniques of Twenty-Six Paintings in the Tate Gallery, London 1982, p.79.
16
Harold Gilman and William Ratcliffe, exhibition catalogue, Southampton Art Gallery 2002, p.17.
17
Carl Hambro, Cultural Attaché, Royal Norwegian Embassy, letter to Tate Gallery, 9 April 1956, Tate Catalogue file.
18
Ada Polak, Deputy Curator in Britain, The Arts and Crafts Museums of Norway, letter to Tate Gallery, 3 November 1987, Tate Catalogue file.

How to cite

Robert Upstone, ‘Canal Bridge, Flekkefjord c.1913 by Harold Gilman’, catalogue entry, May 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/harold-gilman-canal-bridge-flekkefjord-r1139015, accessed 22 March 2019.