THE writer of the following impressions was not a very old friend of Harold Gilman. But he happened to spend a number of exceedingly happy hours in his company; and, holding both the man and the artist in the highest esteem, is proud to have the opportunity of trying to pay him a tribute.
Gore introduced me to Gilman at 19 Fitzroy Street in December 1908, on one of those delightful Saturday afternoons when you were free to feast your eyes on relay after relay of what were mostly little pictures for little patrons. The painters were the energetic young men who were going to call themselves a year or two later the Camden Town Group. Their diverse activities were linked together, it is to be supposed, by a common regard for Mr. Walter Sickert and Mr. Lucien Pissarro.
Very notable was Gilman’s generous appreciation of other artists. He really had “l’âme riante et largement ouverte”; but not the abhorrence of fanaticism that Anatole France attributes to it. For genuine fanatics in contradistinction to adopters of a fanatical pose he could have every respect. As long as a painter seemed to him to be sincere, to be trying to search out the heart of his subject, Gilman would praise him – no matter what his label – no matter how extreme his parti pris in the great battle between Design and Representation, which is the characteristic feature hitherto of twentieth-century Art.
There is one pronouncement of Cézanne’s which may very well have been a constant inspiration to Gilman. It is not his reduction of natural phenomena to geometrical types – an only too celebrated conception which has come to be the essence of Cézannism; but the ambition to make something solid and durable, like the art of the museums out of Impressionism. This idea (the essence of Cézanne as distinguished from Cézannism) will help us to appreciate Gilman’s art, if we analyse it and co-ordinate the activities of Gilman with each of its parts.
One afternoon in the beginning of 1912 I went with Gore to 19 Fitzroy Street for a private view of its treasures. As a matter of fact I was set on acquiring a small picture or two, and Gore had written to me that he could “provide Gilmans to suit every purse if not every taste.” In a dingy light I gazed my fill at the panels and canvases which Gore indefatigably unearthed. Suddenly producing a still life, “Gilman’s breakfast!” said he. I often recalled this phrase.
© Estate of Louis F. Fergusson