The Camden Town Group in Context

ISBN 978-1-84976-385-1

Stanislawa De Karlowska Berkeley Square c.1935

This view looking west down Charles Street must have been painted from an upper window in the south-east corner of Berkeley Square, London. A winter twilight scene, capturing the dim yellow of glowing street lamps, bare tree branches and subtle violet windows of the background buildings, Karlowska’s painting evokes the isolation of the modern city. Her pale streets are almost empty of people aside from two women, dwarfed by the surrounding square, walking toward a taxi in the foreground.
Stanislawa de Karlowska 1876–1952
Berkeley Square
c.1935
Oil paint on canvas
610 x 510 mm
Inscribed ‘S. de Karlowska’ bottom right
Presented by an anonymous donor 1935
N04816

Entry

During the 1930s Stanislawa de Karlowska painted a series of views of central London squares. These included Manchester Square 1930, Regent Square, Bloomsbury 1932, In Russell Square 19351 and Soho Square 1936 (private collection),2 which were all included in her retrospective exhibition at the Maltzahn Gallery in 1969. Other works include St James’s Square c.1934, The Square Gardens c.1938, The Square in Wartime 1939–40 and The Corner of the Square c.1939, listed in the memorial exhibition at the Adams Gallery in 1954, and Imperial Hotel, Russell Square (Nottingham Castle Museum) and Woburn Square (Lotherton Hall, Leeds).
The view of Berkeley Square depicted in the Tate work must have been painted from an upper window in the south-east corner, looking west down Charles Street. This high vantage point, looking down into the square is common to many of the works in Karlowska’s series, and is also similar to Spencer Gore’s high viewpoints in works such as Houghton Place 1912 (Tate N03839, fig.1). The Berkeley Square site has been redeveloped since the painting was made, but at that time the French Gallery stood on this spot.
Spencer Gore 'Houghton Place' 1912
Fig.1
Spencer Gore
Houghton Place 1912
Tate N03839
Robert Bevan 'Belsize Park' 1917
Fig.2
Robert Bevan
Belsize Park 1917
Museum of London
Photo © Museum of London


Several of Karlowska’s London square paintings, including Berkeley Square, were shown at her exhibition at the Adams Gallery in Pall Mall in 1935. These received a positive response from the critic of the Times, who observed:
In her 39 paintings ... Miss S. de Karlowska, who is the widow of Mr R.P. Bevan, excites interest and wins approval by the quiet consideration of her methods and her nice discrimination in the effects of colour. Probably her best picture is ‘St James’s Square’, in which acceptance of symmetry in the composition, with gate, statue, and tall house in a central vertical series, has produced a novel effect. ‘Berkeley Square’, apart from its gravity, pleases by the justness with which a moment of twilight has been recorded ... ‘Portman Square’, again, suggests that toned colour rather than pure colour is her natural field of enjoyment.3
Karlowska’s sequence in some ways continued her husband Robert Bevan’s practice of painting the urban environment. His pictures of Chalk Farm streets have a similar empty feel to Berkeley Square, with the expanse of the surroundings blank except for the punctuation of a small number of vehicles or figures, such as in Belsize Park 1917 (fig.2). Even allowing for the lower density of population and traffic in the 1930s in contrast to our modern experience, there is a strong sense in Karlowska’s painting of the isolation of the individual in the city, bearing similarities with the lonely London views of her contemporary, the painter Algernon Newton (1880–1968).4 Her distant female figures are dwarfed by their surroundings and the trees and buildings that rise above them. There is also a sense of passing life glimpsed from the window. The viewer, like the artist, looks down on the fleeting world of the square, as the two women walk towards a waiting taxi driver. This, in combination with the sombre lighting of the gathering dusk, evokes an elegiac atmosphere, suffused with suppressed emotion, a kind of mournful modern nocturne to the melancholy beauty of city isolation.

Robert Upstone
May 2009

Notes

1
Reproduced in Stanislawa de Karlowska: Paintings 1909–1936, exhibition catalogue, Maltzahn Gallery, London 1969 (22).
2
Reproduced in Frances Stenlake, Robert Bevan: From Gauguin to Camden Town, London 2008, p.194.
3
‘Art Exhibitions: Miss S. de Karlowska’, Times, 12 October 1935, p.10.
4
See, for example, Newton’s The Surrey Canal, Camberwell 1935 (Tate N05343).

How to cite

Robert Upstone, ‘Berkeley Square c.1935 by Stanislawa de Karlowska’, 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/stanislawa-de-karlowska-berkeley-square-r1139841, accessed 19 March 2019.