James Bolivar Manson 1879–1945
In Paris, Manson began full-time study at the famous Académie Julian, where Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard had trained, as well as fellow Fitzroy Street and Camden Town associates Robert Bevan and Stanislawa de Karlowska in the 1890s. Manson shared a rented studio space with the artists Charles Polowetski, Bernard Gussow and Jacob Epstein (fig.3).2 The impressionist painter Manson developed an unlikely friendship with the more radical sculptor Epstein, the pair exchanging many letters in the coming years (fig.4). In 1935 Manson was one of nine signatories, including Kenneth Clark and William Rothenstein, of a letter to the Times in protest against the proposed removal of Epstein’s sculptures from the British Medical Association building on the Strand (fig.5).3
James and Lilian returned to London in 1904, where their first child Mary was born. A second daughter, Jean, arrived in 1906. 184 Adelaide Road in Hampstead was their first, modest family home; Manson kept a studio space to the rear of the house. The family was short of money at this time, with Manson attempting to carve out a career as a full-time artist and Lilian teaching music in the front room for extra income.
Manson’s obligations as secretary certainly impacted on the time available for painting. His artistic ambitions were further curtailed when, in 1912, at the insistence of Lilian, he took up work as an assistant at the Tate Gallery, earning £150 per year, in order to ensure the health of the family finances. The then director of the Tate, Charles Aitken, had made a personal request to the trustees that a post be offered to Manson after the artist had aided him in the hanging of an exhibition. Aitken’s personal respect for Manson evidently translated into a respect for his opinions on art, with Manson successfully able to encourage the Tate Gallery’s acceptance of work by Camden Town Group artists, including that of Walter Sickert, as early as 1915.17
To conceive a limit to artistic development is an admission of one’s own limitations. Nothing is finally right in art; the rightness is purely personal, and for the artist himself. So, in the London Group, which is to be the latest development of the original Fitzroy Street Group, all modern methods may find a home. Cubism meets Impressionism, Futurism and Sickertism join hands and are not ashamed, the motto of the Group being that sincerity of conviction has a right of expression.18
I have no sympathy with that attitude and I do not want to support it, so I think I shall stay with the ‘London Group’.
I feel the other attitude of intoleration is rather narrow.
I don’t think we have any reason to be afraid of a few extreme young men; nor ought we to run away from them.21
How to cite
Tom Furness, ‘James Bolivar Manson 1879–1945’, artist biography, January 2011, in Helena Bonett, Ysanne Holt, Jennifer Mundy (eds.), The Camden Town Group in Context, Tate Research Publication, May 2012, https://www