The Camden Town Group in Context

ISBN 978-1-84976-385-1

[?Walter Bayes], ‘The Camden Town Group’

Athenæum, 14 December 1912.

The third exhibition of the Camden Town Group, now on view at the Carfax Gallery, is, on the whole, the best shown as yet. When we compare it with the work exhibited at the New English Art Club by artists about contemporary with these, and of similar educational antecedents, we are conscious of a certain difference of atmosphere difficult to define. It is hardly to be claimed that a common fund of artistic principles unites the former body, for there are within it diversities of opinion as strong as any that exist between the Camden Town Group as a whole and the New English Art Club from which it is an offshoot. The bond is, perhaps, rather social, consisting in the common possession, for instance, of a taste for low-class surroundings – for unpretentious subjects, which in no circumstances could yield an imposing exhibition picture. As indicating a disposition to be content with a humble lot – indeed, actively to seek it – the title of the Group is not without a rough appropriateness.
With the majority of the exhibitors the readiness not only to accept homely subjects, but also to treat them in a homely fashion, is doubtless allied to a distrust of, if not a scorn for, invention and imagination. Mr. Wyndham Lewis is at least an exception to this rule, and his important contribution Danse (25) is the more valuable as combating what might become a merely negative characteristic of the exhibition. While not quite so good as the group of small drawings shown among the Post-Impressionists at the Grafton, it is by far the best large painting that he has done. The design has the momentary, precarious balance of a kaleidoscope pattern, and we feel that the raising or depression of the poised toe of one of the figures would induce an immediate shifting of all the other angles of the structure. Much, no doubt, has been sacrificed to the violence of the play of these angles – greater elasticity of movement, for example, might easily have been secured without departing from the chosen convention, had the artist consented to the notation of the slight tilt of a pelvis, the slight bending of a supporting limb, whereby the weight of a figure poised on one leg is distributed and the balance maintained. The imaginative interest of the dance is somewhat lessened by the formal starring of the figure from a centre, which makes of it a rather obviously mechanical marionette.
The doyen of the Group, Mr. Walter Sickert, is represented by an admirable painting entitled (we fear naughtily, to irritate the reputable visitor) Summer in Naples, in which the play of angle which is Mr. Lewis’s subject-matter is achieved with almost as much unity and greater delicacy. As admirers of Mr. Sickert’s work will expect, it is complicated with other qualities – the characterization of types, the spirit of time and place: Camden Town, to wit; and this less generalized statement, while not so immediately striking, and calling for an audience which cares about these quaint particularities, has a greater wealth of interest.
Mr. Sickert’s is, on the whole, the best picture in the show. Mr. Gilman’s forcible brush smites its way through a complex colour-scheme in his Portrait (18), but his planes are handled so as to suggest a façade in relief rather than a figure in the round. Mr. Spencer Gore’s painting is in a transitional stage: he is aiming at a more massive design than formerly; but, while still charming, he is as yet rather less convincing in consequence. Messrs. Lucien Pissarro (9–12) and Mr. Henry Lamb (30 and 31) are [end of article missing]
© Estate of Walter Bayes

How to cite

[?Walter Bayes], ‘The Camden Town Group’, in Athenæum, 14 December 1912, in Helena Bonett, Ysanne Holt, Jennifer Mundy (eds.), The Camden Town Group in Context, Tate Research Publication, May 2012,, accessed 18 June 2024.