The Camden Town Group in Context

ISBN 978-1-84976-385-1

Huntly Carter, ‘Art’

The New Age, 27 January 1910, pp.307–8.

I once had the curiosity to take down a dictionary to find the following definition: “Cartoon. A picture, either a caricature or a symbolical composition, designed to advocate or attack some political or other id[e]a of present interest, or some prominent person: as the cartoons of ‘Punch.’” Another kind is defined as belonging to Art, and a design of the same size as an intended decoration, etc. Most people will agree that both the above definitions and the distinction have a certain amount of truth in them. And particularly true is the tail of the first definition. Broadly speaking, the modern representative of the Neapolitan Pulcinella is the highly respectable expression of the public idea in cartoon and caricature. It is a fairly dreary publication, posing as the bulwark of British constitutional principles, and having but little relation to Art. It is thoroughly British in its devotion to the Britannia, the British Lion, and the Middle-Class ideal, and in its attack on the myths, corruption, and vices of a long dead past. It is also thoroughly British in its refusal to bring itself up to date in the matter of artistic designers.
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Apparently the “artists” of “Punch” are chosen, with but few exceptions – Keene, Baumer, Geo. Morrow, Shepherd, among them – according to a stereotyped pattern. To-day they are mostly modelled on the lines of Tenniel, the real founder of “Punch.” The Tenniel cartoons have set the style of illustration according to which beautiful design and the thoroughly artistic line are neglected, and painfully feeble drawing, heavy and over-elaborate compositions, and poverty of imagination are cultivated. Those who wish to realise [end of p.307] how much of the qualities of execution have been left out of the designs of a cartoonist who has undoubtedly influenced modern men, may do so by comparing two periodicals, “Punch” and the “Yellow Book” standing side by side in splendid isolation in a shop window in Piccadilly. The comparison cannot be profitable to “Punch.” In fact, how beastly formal, cold and grey Tenniel looks beside the rich, glowing picturesqueness of Beardsley. It may also create reflection. I, for one, am led to inquire, why if Beardsley could bring all his fine qualities of rich invention, extraordinary mastery of the single line, rare instinct for decoration, genius for placing mass, and amazing imagination to the service of caricature, “Punch” has never encouraged others to do likewise? It may, of course, be urged by middle-class and middle-aged people that social and political ideas, and not design or drawing, are the important things in a cartoon or caricature, and because Tenniel was able to strike every idea home he is entitled to share with “F.C.G.” the place of a national institution. The answer to this sort of nonsense is that long ago the French cartoonists proved that even serials and newspapers may have an artistic horizon. At one time or another remarkable draughtsmen and masters of pure linear caricature, Caran d’Ache, Steinlen, Forain, Willette, Guillaumet, VĂ©ber, have appeared to prove that in order convincingly to illustrate ideas, say, political, like the British Lion bolting with its tail between its legs, or “Dropping the Pilot,” it is not necessary to have a pathological style.
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I am led to these reflections not so much by the weakness of “Punch” in particular as by the flabbiness of our cartoonists and caricaturists in general. The cheap, shallow insincerity, the vulgar dishonesty of much of the work done for the English Press, the search for the grotesque, ludicrous or degrading subject in our ha’penny and penny papers, is notorious. In this connection it is not too much to say that the exclusion of Art renders the majority of the serious and comic journals of this country mischievous plagues and cancers.
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But the aspect under which the cartoon is seen at its worst, and exercises its most baneful influence, is in street decoration. In this country, at a moment like the present, the political cartoon is the unnatural enemy of peace and order. It spreads itself across towns and cities in all its brutal ugliness like a leprosy. It aims to tyrannise and terrorise individuals and communities, to foment war, and to add a new horror to life. It is the hypothesis of sordid lying, political marauding, and inartistic incompetence. If there ever was a clue to the evil side of man it is the English political poster. And yet there may be no need to confine ourselves solely to the abominable expression of ideas of sheer ugliness and terror in political warfare, for what Jules Cheret has done with his finely-drawn many-coloured posters for street decoration in France might be done in England also. That is, provided we could press artists into the service of the State through Fleet Street and the hoarding. But perhaps we do not breed the right men for artistic cartoon work. It seems as though England once gave birth to those superb twins, Gilray and Rowlandson, and died in the process.
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On the other hand, it may be maintained that we do breed the right men, and though there are thousands of vulgar apes who can scrawl something with a pencil that will interest or amuse the ten silliest persons in a crowd, there are also many artists who can draw an object truly with a perfectly pure and harmonious line, and who would gladly apply their disciplined qualities to cartoon work if only they were assured of the range of ideas required of them, and had a right understanding of the needs of the interpreters of their designs, and could overcome the main difficulty – that of getting their work seen, discussed, and understood. Fine artists complain they have no opportunity of approaching the Press, and even if they had – well, they are not rightly equipped to make the approach. So what’s to be done? Simply this: Let efficient painters and draughtsmen in this country form small associated groups answering to those in Paris and to Germany’s Kunst Verein, and invite all and sundry to weekly informal exhibitions.
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As a practical illustration of what I mean I may take a London group with which I am well acquainted. It is composed of Messrs. Bevan, who is painting the poetry of Poland; Gilman, who is expressing himself in richly illuminated interiors and still life; S. F. Gore, a clever analyst of stage lighting; Henry Lamb, who is translating himself in a finely sensitive living line; Lucien Pissarro, the painter of singularly expressive landscapes and exquisite illumination; Augustus John, our foremost living draughtsman; Albert Rothenstein, a colourist and a draughtsman whose line reveals unusual delicacy; Walter Sickert, who is in his third period devoting himself to music-hall themes and etching; Miss Hudson, a fine harmonist and one of our few beautiful pattern designers; and Miss Sands, who has a rare understanding of the luminous qualities of paint. It will thus be seen that the group aims to unite artists having something in common either as painters or draughtsmen. It also has an economic basis, and, among other considerations, saves the buyer the 50 per cent. usually charged by the dealers. Perhaps most important is its social side. It exhibits every Saturday afternoon in Sickert’s studio at 19, Fitzroy Street, and is glad if anyone will call in an informal way and become acquainted with its pictures and with the members of an association founded on terms of equality, and thus tend to break down that barrier which the middleman has set up between the artist and the public and which shadows both sides as with a curse.
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For those who visit galleries, the Royal Institute Galleries have the 600 odd exhibits of the newest of “Sketch Societies.” These are admirably arranged as groups and are remarkable for the absence of sketches. In his water-colours at the Leicester Galleries Mr. Peppercorn is seen breaking away from his one theme and his one low key of which I was beginning to get very tired. He, however, continues to reveal old characteristics in which some people seem to detect greatness, but which to me are so much evidence of misdirected energy. Mr. Wynne Apperly has carried his colour vision to Venice and the lakes in a very promising way for a young and new man. He will be wise not to be carried away by his love of Reckitt’s blue. And there is Mr. Ernest S. Lumsden’s series of etchings at the Dowdesell Galleries, very careful and delicate and revealing a nice feeling and sentiment. They should be seen.
Huntly Carter.

How to cite

Huntly Carter, ‘Art’, in The New Age, 27 January 1910, pp.307–8, in Helena Bonett, Ysanne Holt, Jennifer Mundy (eds.), The Camden Town Group in Context, Tate Research Publication, May 2012,, accessed 28 May 2024.