The Camden Town Group in Context

ISBN 978-1-84976-385-1

James Bolivar Manson Michaelmas Daisies c.1923

Made over a period of more than thirty years, Manson’s flower pictures always include small elements of the domesticated setting in which they were completed. In this painting the warm ochre vase of brightly coloured daisies, rendered in small impasto brushstrokes, obscures what might be a white mantelpiece in the upper right-hand background. Painted directly onto the canvas priming, the main body of flowers is luminescent compared to the peripheral blooms overlaying a darker, shadowy background.
James Bolivar Manson 1879–1945
Michaelmas Daisies
c.1923
Oil paint on canvas
610 x 508 mm
Inscribed by the artist ‘J.B. Manson’ bottom right
Presented by Subscribers 1923
N01355

Entry

In his introduction to the catalogue of an exhibition held to mark J.B. Manson’s death, R.R. Tatlock drew attention to his friend’s fascination with the beauty of nature:
We have been taught that it is misleading to judge pictures by their subjects. Yet to close our eyes to that would be to deny not only what exists but what is obvious and insistent. When we say Cézanne cared little what he depicted we are, in fact, introducing subject matter as an element in our argument. When I say that Manson did care, the remark is equally relevant. Manson, like Renoir, found himself inspired most enjoyably when confronted with Nature’s most abundantly luscious gifts. No one knew Manson who knew him only in the Streets of Chelsea, still less in the Board Room at the Tate Gallery. He had to be seen and his presence felt in a garden or a lane, or perhaps looking into the gorgeous face of a peony or listening to the birds. With him the child was always father of the man.1
This enjoyment of the simple pleasures of nature perhaps explains Manson’s commitment to painting flower pictures, a long and numerous series painted over a period of more than thirty years.
Manson’s exhibition of flower pictures at the Leicester Galleries in 1923 attracted little critical attention. It was reviewed briefly and not wholly positively in the Times:
Mr J.B. Manson, who has the third room with flower paintings, paints better than he draws, with the result that he is happiest in the mixed bunch, such as ‘Autumn Flowers in a White Jug’ and ‘A Late Summer Bunch’, in which the tapestry of colour is of more account than the construction.2
This observation holds some truth, but it is perhaps more the case that Manson did not intend such paintings to serve as botanical illustrations. Rather they were examples of his belief in impressionist principles, painting simple objects pleasing to the eye in a style adapted from Claude Monet and Lucien and Camille Pissarro. Unlike the classic type of Dutch seventeenth-century flower pictures, Manson always included details of the household setting in which he painted his flowers, essentially creating a form of domestic still life. As he stated in an interview in the Daily Herald in 1930:
I was living in Muirhead Bone’s house in Hampshire during a very wet holiday and as I could not get out, I painted flowers indoors. These works proved to be my best.3
When Michaelmas Daisies was included in Manson’s 1973 retrospective exhibition at the Maltzahn Gallery, William Gaunt wrote in the Times that is was ‘for a long time reported to be the most popular of the Tate’s series of postcard colour prints’.4

Robert Upstone
July 2009

Notes

1
R.R. Tatlock, ‘James Bolivar Manson 1879–1945’, in James Bolivar Manson 1879–1945, exhibition catalogue, Wildenstein, London 1946, [p.4].
2
‘Art Exhibitions: The Leicester Galleries’, Times, 6 November 1923, p.17.
3
J.B. Manson, interviewed by G.S. Sandilands, Daily Herald, 17 June 1930.
4
William Gaunt, ‘Tate Director as Painter’, Times, 7 February 1973, p.19.

How to cite

Robert Upstone, ‘Michaelmas Daisies c.1923 by James Bolivar Manson’, catalogue entry, July 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/james-bolivar-manson-michaelmas-daisies-r1139843, accessed 20 March 2019.