The Camden Town Group in Context

ISBN 978-1-84976-385-1

Huntly Carter, ‘Art and Drama’

The New Age, 28 December 1911, p.203.

Art and Drama.
By Huntly Carter.
By a gradual abnegation of the ideal, painting has at last reached what is termed the realistic form of art. It is, in fact, more or less imitative. But with the total abnegation of the real, consequent upon the present revolt, painting will again achieve the ideal. This revolt is already strongly marked. So, painting to-day appears in two distinct forms; one expressing the objects of experience as they appear to us, or more important than they really are, the other expressing things apparently out of all relation to actual life. The first of these forms is seen expressing objects realistically, that is imitating their utilitarian character and implying their artistic; the other form is exemplified in the expression of objects from which the utilitarianism has been eliminated till only the essential artistic features remain.
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The second form is concerned solely with the quintessence of ideality. It is the expression of a mind that is dissatisfied with actual things and has formed a conception of higher and better, which it seeks to express in a new form of composition having the elements of music. This composition has the peculiarity that if it is based on real objects, it affirms that each object has but one note or two of importance to the artist, and the rest of it does not matter. The note may be an ellipse, a circle, an angle, a straight line, to be used as a motive in a composition of shape and balance harmony. A composition of the kind calls forth all the special powers of creation, selection, omission, adaptation and elevation of subject.
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Perhaps the greatest crime of the nineteenth century has been that of a class of “leader,” artistic, literary, dramatic, that has aimed solely to foster minds possessing the normal vision of reality, and under the guise of truthfulness has misled even intelligent persons with unrealisable expectations. The realistic school of painting is one of the worst offenders in this respect. Though professing contempt for the public, it has yet expressed objects – many of them coarse and repulsive, softened by dexterous handling – which it knew the public would accept, as coming within the public’s every-day experience. It has, indeed, sought to murder idealism with sleight of hand tricks.
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The realistic artist is still everywhere aiming rather to express than leave out the utility or inartistic unessentials inseparable from things in the actual. The London picture galleries, for instance, are in the possession of the painter with the normal vision of reality. Let anyone with the abnormal vision of reality go to the Goupil, Carfax, Chenil, or Suffolk Street galleries and he will find painter after painter standing still, their work absolutely stagnant. They are all doing the same thing – offering a point of view which the public unhesitatingly accepts, and employing a technique to which the public may or may not object. The strange fact is they are in the same inartistic world as the public, whereas, as artists, they ought to be in a world of their own. Nothing, therefore, but a few examples of the idealisation of the actual remain to satisfy the visitor. The studies by William Shackleton, with their wonderful feeling of mystery and infinity, at Suffolk Street and the Goupil; Robert Bevan’s studies at Suffolk Street and The Carfax; a very simple and big landscape by C. J. Holmes at Suffolk Street; the three figures by Wyndham Lewis – one of the exhibitors of the Camden Town Group at The Carfax who is not tiresome; Spencer F. Gore’s colour studies at The Stafford Galleries; and at the same place a Gauguin – the well-known Tahitian girl prone on a couch, and a Cezanne [sic] – a thickly painted “Still Life.” He might take many of the other pictures as a text for a lecture on the limitations of the real, concluding with Augustus John. The latter’s amazing portrait group, at Suffolk Street, of two men with cast-iron legs and heads painted like miniatures, is a mournful, depressing sight; while his small landscapes at the Chenil Gallery and elsewhere point to but one conclusion. Mr. John ought to stop turning out such things and study colour and painting. He is easily first among draughtsmen, and easily last among painters.

How to cite

Huntly Carter, ‘Art and Drama’, in The New Age, 28 December 1911, p.203, 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/huntly-carter-art-and-drama-r1104250, accessed 25 June 2019.