The Camden Town Group in Context

ISBN 978-1-84976-385-1

Sir Claude Phillips, ‘Art Exhibitions. The Camden Town Group’

The Daily Telegraph, 14 December 1911, p.16.

 It would be unkind, and, perhaps, not altogether fair, to speak of this as a Movement of No Importance. And yet, judging by the work now brought forward, this would not be absolutely a misdescription of the group which chooses to identify itself with the unromantic and depressing region of Camden Town – so hard to connect with the buoyancy of modern art. Some valiant young painters, and others not free from the prevailing sin of fumisterie (anglice humbug), display work which is not without its stimulating effect on the onlooker who approaches the whole question without prejudice. Still, there is not enough to justify the existence of the militant Camden Towners as a body apart from the New English Art Club, where a good many of them are now showing work of greater importance. Those who exhibit in the group and not in the club are not precisely the most interesting or the most serious among the modernists who here with more than a nuance of youthful defiance approach the public.
 Mr. Henry Lamb stands out from the rest as a peculiarly fine and expressive draughtsman, who possesses already the precious gift of style. True he is still under the influence of Mr. Augustus John; but this is hardly a reproach, seeing that every painter – and especially every painter of promise – must have a precursor, a support upon whom to base his beginnings. The “Portrait” is an admirably firm and well-characterised study of the same farouche, resentful young model who appears in Mr. Lamb’s picture at the New English Art Club. His “Drawing” – the figure of another (or, perhaps the same) model, standing in vacant space on an eminence, is in its simplicity of contour a masterly design. Mr. J.D. Innes exhibits landscapes which are singularly like those later ones from the brush of Mr. John which have been seen at the Chenil Gallery. “Arenig” is a beautiful study of hill and valley, wrapped in the shadow of deepening evening, yet still rich in colour. Of great charm, too, is “Flowers,” a study of sturdy, juicy, yellow blooms, rising solitary in the foreground of a meadow landscape. Mr. Sickert paints with broader, looser brush than heretofore, and with heavy, sooty shadows of unpleasant effect. For all that, his “Louie” is a powerful, living study of slatternly humanity, and we are more or less bound to accept the means by which he arrives at this result. How dreary, how sunless, how dusty, and unprofitable is, all the same, the aspect of humanity which has recently found favour with this precursor among modernists!
 Mr. Spencer Gore is, above all, conscientious in his modernity, a competent painter of dull, everyday impressionisms. “The Mad Pierrot Ballet,” a very deliberate improvisation that has nothing in it of madness, or of that imaginativeness which is next door to a fine frenzy, is not even good as mere visual impression. An excellent piece of work is, on the other hand, “The Garden,” the row of typically English houses at the back being most artistically rendered. Yet even here dulness is not rendered less dull by the treatment, artistic though it undoubtedly is. Mr. Gilman, his immediate neighbour on the wall of the Carfax Gallery, is a neo-impressionist with a personal accent of his own, that suffices to make the obvious and the everyday interesting. “Le Pont Tournant” gives this curious type of modern bridge with accuracy as regards the impression, but also with a sense of novelty and wonderment. And this is enough to give the study a raison d’ĂȘtre. “Nude, No. 1,” is not only needlessly repellent but pictorially uninteresting, while “Nude, No. 2” – the same model with the same imperfections less cynically exhibited – is made attractive by a flicker of fitful sunlight on the undraped body that seems to crave indulgence from the spectator for its ugliness. Of Mr. Ratcliffe’s contributions the pretty, scintillating “Sunshine” is the best. Mr. Ginner is again a neo-impressionist, with a touch of the personal in his work. “The Sunlit Quay” is an admirable composition more or less of the panoramic order, but suggesting not so much sunlight as an artificial hectic blaze before extinction. The intention to astonish the citizen is paramount in Mr. P. Wyndham Lewis’s More-than-Post-Impressionist designs, “Pont [sic] de Mer,” “Au MarchĂ©,” and “Virgin and Child.” But the hardened citizen takes a good deal of slapping into attention in these days. Here he will merely gaze for a moment, bewildered, but not greatly amused, and then pass on. Mr. Wyndham Lewis is not even one of the fashionable cubistes who reigned this year at the Salon d’Automne. He is – if the term be permissible – an angularist. To give him all the credit that he can possibly expect, he may be a genuine seeker of salient and of characteristic angles in the human figure – he may be searching for some rhythm that lurks beneath the surface. But such attempts should be pursued in private; when thrust forward as they are here they appear dangerously like insults to the public. But this public, luckily, will not allow itself to be goaded into the indignation hoped for. More humorous designs are to be found in many a nonsense-book than this outrageously misnamed “Virgin and Child.” M. Lucien Pissarro exhibits, among other things, one very accomplished study, “Sunset, Epping.” It is impressionism that affects the eye merely, and leaves the spirit unmoved; but as such very good – very like that of the elder Pissarro, of Monet and Renoir. Mr. Duncan Grant’s “Tulips” is a flower-piece, beautifully done, somewhat after the fashion of Manet, the only jarring note being the purple figured cloth on which the vase of flowers rests. There is something satisfying in the austere modernity of Mr. Walter Bayes, who in the impersonal coldness reveals a certain probity and dignity. He is able to suggest beneath the aerial envelope, beneath the perpetually changing vesture of earth, something of architectural structure, of permanence. “The Bridge,” an open-air scene enwrapped in a half-veiled sunlight, is a good example of this. “Padstow Regatta” has an admirable background, and a foreground of fine rhythm, marred, however, by the multitude of small and rather over-defined figures that peoples the shore.

How to cite

Sir Claude Phillips, ‘Art Exhibitions. The Camden Town Group’, in The Daily Telegraph, 14 December 1911, p.16, in Helena Bonett, Ysanne Holt, Jennifer Mundy (eds.), The Camden Town Group in Context, Tate Research Publication, May 2012,, accessed 20 May 2024.