The Camden Town Group in Context

ISBN 978-1-84976-385-1

Spencer Gore Ballet Scene c.1903-6

In this watercolour brisk pencil lines and washes of transparent colour build up layers of movement, dissipating into the dark background of the theatre stage. Warm yellow and red hues and the white costumes of dancers in the foreground give shape to the picture’s long perspective. Gore was a ballet enthusiast, and saw Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes perform in London in 1911.
Spencer Gore 1878–1914
Ballet Scene
Graphite and watercolour on paper
375 x 280 mm
Presented by Albert Rutherston 1951


The ballet particularly fascinated Gore and it formed a regular subject in his art. The critic Frank Rutter, one of his friends, recalled that these pictures were:
Magical paintings dancing with colour and movement, in which – unlike almost every other recent painter of ballets – Gore appeared to be absolutely unconscious that Degas had ever treated similar themes ... Degas, giant as he was, viewed the ballet with blasé, cynical eyes; Gore saw it quivering with wonder and delight. Never shall I forget going with him to Covent Garden when he saw the Russian Ballet for the first time. At the fall of the curtain he turned to me, his eyes shining with moisture, and whispered ‘I’ve often dreamt of such things – but I never thought I should see them!’1
Rutter was writing about when Gore saw Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes company, which performed in England for the first time in 1911. But Gore’s drawing Ballet Scene evidently does not show the Ballets Russes and, although difficult to date with absolute certainty, its style and composition suggest a period much earlier than 1911. The artist’s son Frederick Gore believes that the drawing must have been made early on in his father’s career, and stresses that his father’s interest in ballet did not derive from Sickert, but took hold long before they met.2 On stylistic grounds a date of c.1903–6 is suggested here.
The drawing appears to be a complete and finished work in itself, rather than a study for a painting. Gore favoured two theatres in particular, both in Leicester Square: the Alhambra Theatre of Varieties and the Empire Theatre. But it has not been possible to identify the ballet being performed in the watercolour based on the amount of visual information that is present nor the location of the performance. The two figures on the left in the foreground are in historical costume.

Robert Upstone
May 2009


Frank Rutter, Some Contemporary Artists, London 1922, p.127. This book is dedicated to ‘S.F.G.’ [Spencer Frederick Gore] and ‘H.G.’ [Harold Gilman].
Conversation with the author, January 1991.

How to cite

Robert Upstone, ‘Ballet Scene c.1903–6 by Spencer Gore’, catalogue entry, May 2009, in Helena Bonett, Ysanne Holt, Jennifer Mundy (eds.), The Camden Town Group in Context, Tate Research Publication, May 2012,, accessed 03 March 2024.