The Camden Town Group in Context

ISBN 978-1-84976-385-1

James Bolivar Manson Letter to Esther Pissarro 23 November 1911

James Bolivar Manson and Lucien Pissarro met in 1910 when Manson was preparing an article about the impressionist painter. The two became close friends and allies over the coming years and through the elder artist Manson became a member of the Fitzroy Street and Camden Town groups.
In this letter to Lucien’s wife, Esther, Manson explains the reason behind the Camden Town Group’s ban on female membership, stating that it was owing to the ‘disinclination of the group to include Miss S & Miss H of Fitzroy St in the list of members’. Ethel Sands and Nan Hudson were close friends of Walter Sickert and founder members of the Fitzroy Street Group, but Sickert had also written bluntly to them on the matter in June 1911 (TGA 9125/5, no.77):
As a matter of fact, as you probably know, the Camden Town Group is a male club, and women are not eligible. There are lots of 2 sex clubs, and several one sex clubs, and this is one of them.
As Nicola Moorby has stated, however, Manson may be laying the blame on Sands and Hudson so as not to offend Esther or her friend Diana White, whom Esther wanted to join the group. In Charles Ginner’s reminiscences of the group, he wrote:
Gilman, strongly supported by Sickert, ... contended that some members might desire, perhaps even under pressure, to bring in their wives or lady friends and this might make things rather uncomfortable between certain of the elect, for these wives or lady friends might not quite come up to the standard aimed at by the group.
It may be that requests such as these were the reason for the ban on female membership rather than the merits or otherwise of the work of Sands and Hudson.
Charles Ginner, ‘The Camden Town Group’, Studio, November 1945, pp.129–36.
Nicola Moorby, ‘Her Indoors: Women Artists and Depictions of the Domestic Interior’, The Camden Town Group in Context, Tate 2011, http://www.tate.org.uk.
Wendy Baron, Perfect Moderns: A History of the Camden Town Group, Aldershot and Vermont 2000, pp.44–5.

Helena Bonett
August 2011

Transcript

[Handwritten:]
98. Hampstead Way N.W.
23.11.11
Dear Mrs Pissarro,
 Thanks for yr letter. The rule (if there be a rule) excluding women from the C. T. Group was made for the definite purpose of bridging over the difficulty which arose through the disinclination of the group to include Miss S & Miss H of Fitzroy St in the list of members. It had otherwise no malicious intention.
 I admire Miss White’s work & I am sorry it has been rejected by the N.E.A.C. especially as there are a lot of [end of p.1] bad pictures there.
 Of course pictures ought to be judged on their own merits with absolutely no regard to the sex, personality etc of the painter.
 Of course again I can promise nothing except that I will put this matter to Gore – to-morrow – in a favourable light.
 It is difficult to make a woman a member off-hand especially as the time is so limited before the next exhibition.
 But I see no reason why the Group [end of p.2] should not give Miss White a special invitation to exhibit without actually making her a member until the matter has been discussed at a meeting.
 The N.E.A.C. have power to invite foreign artists to exhibit with them & I do think that the C.T.G. might do a lot of good by inviting some work which is rejected at other shows owing to the corruption of the present systems, favouritisms etc.
 In fact, I should personally be in favour of printing a note in the catalogue to say that these [end of p.3] excellent pictures were rejected by the N.E.A.C. & so deliberately draw public attention to this fact. Humbug & insincerity of that description should be publicly pilloried.
 Jean is better, I am glad to say. – tho’ [?worse] is still with us.
 With kindest regards.
   Yours sincerely
     J.B. Manson
I hope I shall get Lucien’s list with prices to be printed in the catalogue – by to-morrow’s post.

How to cite

James Bolivar Manson, Letter to Esther Pissarro, 23 November 1911, 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/james-bolivar-manson-letter-to-esther-pissarro-r1104613, accessed 21 May 2019.