Oil paint on canvas
762 x 635 mm
Inscribed in unknown hand ‘Spencer F Gore Rule Britannia 19 Fitzroy Street’ on canvas stretcher
Purchased by the Patrons of British Art and presented through the Tate Gallery Foundation to the Tate Gallery 1992
Technique and condition
The canvas is a plain, slightly open-weave, hemp-like cloth with three cut edges and a selvedge along the right side. The cloth adjacent to the selvedge is reinforced with fine double-linen warp threads. It was originally attached with tacks to a weakly constructed stretcher, which provided inadequate support for the weight of the painted support. A thin glue sizing has been applied to the canvas and is visible in the interstices of the weave at the back. The evenly applied priming, below the earlier work, extends to the cut edges and stops just short of the selvedge. The double-priming is consistent with that found on other paintings by Gore, all of which appear to have been chosen for their particular properties (see also Tate N04675).
How to citeRoy Perry and Sarah Morgan, 'Technique and Condition', June 2005, in Robert Upstone, ‘Rule Britannia 1910 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, https://www
Rutter was writing about Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes company, which performed in England for the first time in 1911. Dating from the year before this, Rule Britannia depicts the finale of the patriotic ballet Our Flag, which opened at the Alhambra on 20 December 1909 (fig.3). It was immensely popular and ran for twenty-three weeks. The star of the show was the Danish ballerina Britta Petersen, whom Gore shows here in her Union Jack tutu performing the final dance, ‘Rule Britannia’ (fig.4). Generally known as ‘Mlle Britta’, Petersen had been imported by the Alhambra to compete with the success of her fellow Dane, Adelene Genée, who danced at the rival Empire Theatre of Varieties in Leicester Square. Born on 30 October 1888, Petersen enrolled at the ballet school of the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen in October 1899, and graduated in 1904. She started as a dancer in the theatre’s corps de ballet in 1906, and left on 6 April 1908, the year she premiered at the Alhambra.3 The Dancing Times in 1915 published Mlle Britta’s photograph and, in the past tense, perhaps referring to her death or retirement, described her as ‘a Danish danseuse, who achieved considerable success at the Alhambra, and also at the Coliseum, and who was one of the first to introduce classic dancing into South Africa’.4
Description and studies
There are a number of preparatory drawings for Rule Britannia, all in private hands. One is a pencil and pen and ink line drawing for the whole composition, although without the figures of the central ballerina and the woman holding a flag at the extreme left. This has been squared-up and numbered in pencil (fig.5). The machine-serrated edge of the sheet indicates that it came from a notebook. Another drawing, more keenly worked and shaded in pencil, shows the overall composition, this time lacking only the figure of Britta Petersen. This has a colour note to the far edge which reads ‘pillar | green’ (fig.6). Another carefully depicts the ornate background (fig.7), and there are also studies of Mlle Britta herself (figs.8–9). Other preparatory material includes a sheet of three figure studies in pencil for the figures on the left of the composition: the woman who is bisected by the edge of the canvas is in this drawing unobstructed and annotated with several colour notes; the woman holding the blue flag, for whom there is a second outline study on the sheet directly below the more fully worked and detailed drawing; and the left-hand man in naval officer’s uniform wearing a cocked hat.
How to cite
Robert Upstone, ‘Rule Britannia 1910 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, https://www