The Camden Town Group in Context

ISBN 978-1-84976-385-1

Spencer Gore The Artist's Wife 1913

Spencer Gore’s wife Mollie trained as a dancer in Edinburgh. Gore shows her seated on the floor of their first flat together at 2 Houghton Place in north London, leaning against a cabinet. The dense colour of the walls and background furnishings emphasise her informally rendered figure, which is given strong shape by her bobbed hairstyle and tunic dress then fashionable in bohemian circles.
Spencer Gore 1878–1914
The Artist’s Wife
1913
Oil paint on canvas
765 x 636 mm
Inscribed by Harold Gilman ‘Portrait of Mrs S.F. Gore. | Painted by S.F. Gore at 2 Houghton Place. | N.W. in 1913. unsigned | (171) (a)’ on label on back; studio stamp ‘S.F. GORE’ bottom right.
Presented by the artist’s son Frederick Gore 1983
T03561

Entry

Gore married Mary Johanna Kerr, known as Mollie, in January 1912. They first met in 1911, possibly introduced by Gore’s friend the artist Albert Rutherston. Mollie came from Edinburgh where she trained as a dancer at the Opera, and also modelled for the painter Charles Hodge Mackie (1862–1920). In London she knew a number of artists and art students, possibly modelling for them, and through this circle met Rutherston and Gore.1 Gore painted her portrait several times both before and after they married. In 1911 he painted at least four: The Balustrade, Mornington Crescent (Leeds City Art Gallery),2 The Artist’s Wife (Birmingham City Art Gallery),3 Mrs S.F. Gore in the Garden of Rowlandson House (private collection)4 and The Artist’s Wife, Mornington Crescent (Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand, Wellington).5 In 1913 he painted The Gas Cooker (Tate T00496), which shows Mollie at work in the kitchen of their first home together, a flat at 2 Houghton Place NW1.
Spencer Gore 'Self-Portrait' 1914
Fig.1
Spencer Gore
Self-Portrait 1914
National Portrait Gallery, London
Photo © National Portrait Gallery, London
Although Gore was primarily a painter of landscapes, urban scenes and figure studies, portraits were nevertheless a recurrent if occasional part of his output. These consist principally of pictures of Mollie, painting more of her than anyone else; his other portraits also number North London Girl (Tate T03561), a picture of the woman who made the tea at 19 Fitzroy Street, and Portrait of Stanislawa de Karlowska c.1913 (private collection).6 Of his self-portraits there is one from c.1906 in Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery,7 one which belonged to Robert Bevan entitled Conversation Piece and Self-Portrait 1910 (private collection)8 in which the reflection in the mirror of an overmantel is indebted to Walter Sickert, and the well-known, modernistic image in the National Portrait Gallery of 1914 (fig.1). All of Gore’s forays into portraiture are informal in character, and usually naturalistic.
This portrait shows Mollie sitting on the floor of their living room at 2 Houghton Place, her back against a glass-fronted bookcase or cabinet. Her pose is relaxed, but her gaze direct and arresting. The dress she is wearing would have been considered avant-garde at the time. It is a side-fastening, thigh-length tunic based on Russian costume, which became fashionable in artistic and bohemian circles through the popularity of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, who first performed in London in 1911. Her bobbed haircut would also have been considered advanced and daring. The bob was popularised in Britain by the American dancer Irene Castle (1893–1969) around 1914, but young women in artistic circles were having their hair cut like this slightly before. The artist and model Nina Hamnet (1890–1956), for instance, had her hair cut into a bob in 1913 by the sculptor Ossip Zadkine (1890–1967) so that she resembled one of his statues.9
Gilman inscribed a label in ink on the reverse ‘Portrait of Mrs S.F. Gore. | Painted by S.F. Gore at 2 Houghton | Place. N.W. in 1913. unsigned | (171) (a)’.

Robert Upstone
May 2009

Notes

1
Information from the artist’s son, Frederick Gore.
2
Reproduced in Spencer Frederick Gore 1878–1914, exhibition catalogue, Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London 1983 (13).
3
Reproduced ibid. (14).
4
Reproduced ibid. (17).
6
Reproduced in The Painters of Camden Town 1905–1920, exhibition catalogue, Christie’s, London 1988 (6).
7
Reproduced in Spencer Gore in Richmond, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Richmond 1996, p.11.
8
Reproduced in Wendy Baron, The Camden Town Group, London 1979, no.26.
9
Information from Valerie Mendes, Curator of Textiles & Dress, Victoria and Albert Museum. For more on this, see Meaghan Clarke, ‘Sex and the City: The Metropolitan New Woman’, The Camden Town Group, Tate 2011, http://www.tate.org.uk.

How to cite

Robert Upstone, ‘The Artist’s Wife 1913 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.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/camden-town-group/spencer-gore-the-artists-wife-r1139857, accessed 25 March 2019.