The Camden Town Group in Context

ISBN 978-1-84976-385-1

William Ratcliffe Clarence Gardens 1912

The organic form of the tree casting its shadow over the brilliant green grass in the middle ground provides a strong contrast to the neat geometries of the shining road surface and background row of houses in Ratcliffe’s picture. Diminutive pedestrian figures move along the pavement on the right-hand side. Ratcliffe painted few central London scenes and was probably inspired by his friend Harold Gilman, who made two pictures of the same square.
William Ratcliffe 1870–1955
Clarence Gardens
Oil paint on canvas
508 x 762 mm
Inscribed ‘W. Ratcliffe 1912’ bottom left
Purchased 1982


Originally known as Clarence Market, Clarence Gardens NW1 was designed by the architect John Nash (1752–1835) as part of a series of three markets in the area to the east of Regent’s Park. Consisting of York, Cumberland and Clarence Markets, they were originally intended for trading in meat, hay and vegetables respectively. Each was bordered by terraces of small houses intended for artisan dwellers. Clarence Market was renamed Clarence Gardens soon after it was built in 1824, when the centre of the square was occupied by a market garden. The whole area was badly bombed in 1941, and Clarence Gardens was cleared and replaced by council flats in the 1960s.1
William Ratcliffe 'Clarence Gardens' c.1911–12
William Ratcliffe
Clarence Gardens c.1911–12
Southampton City Art Gallery
© Estate of William Ratcliffe
Courtesy of Wendy Baron. © Southampton City Art Gallery, Hampshire, UK / The Bridgeman Art Library
Tate’s work is one of two oils Ratcliffe made of Clarence Gardens. The other from c.1911–1912 is smaller and shows only the south-eastern corner of the square (fig.1). One of the works was exhibited at the third Camden Town Group exhibition in December 1912, and it seems reasonable to assume it was the larger and more complex Tate work. Its price listed in the catalogue was 15 guineas, supporting it being a larger painting. In a review of the exhibition in the Daily Telegraph, the critic Sir Claude Phillips stated:
Out of two in themselves fairly prosaic scenes, ‘Clarence Gardens’ and ‘Hotel Cecil from Hungerford Bridge,’ Mr. W. Ratcliffe has without offending against the modesty of truth, extracted elements of beauty. In both cases compositions of decorative aspect and satisfying harmony, both linear and chromatic, have been obtained.2
Ratcliffe may have been stimulated to make these works by his friendship with Harold Gilman, who also painted two pictures of the square around 1912 (fig.2). Although depictions of north London squares and the backs of houses were a key feature of Camden Town painting – of Gore and Gilman in particular – they represent a relatively small part of Ratcliffe’s output. For the most part the artist favoured interior scenes or landscapes and rural subjects, like those he produced in Letchworth Garden City and in Sweden, where he travelled in 1913.
Harold Gilman 'Clarence Gardens N.W.' c.1912
Harold Gilman
Clarence Gardens N.W. c.1912
Ferens Art Gallery, Hull
Photo © Ferens Art Gallery: Hull Museums
Clarence Gardens is thought to be the only picture assigned by the Contemporary Art Society to be subsequently sold by the recipient institution, although the art historian Wendy Baron states that ‘The Bournemouth gallery received this picture from the C.A.S. as London Square and subsequently sold it at auction on behalf of the corporation’.3 The Russell-Cotes Art Gallery sold it at auction in 1959 for £2.

Robert Upstone and Ysanne Holt
January 2011


A photograph of how a relatively unchanged part of the square looked in 1955 is reproduced in Michael Mansbridge, John Nash, Oxford 1991, p.265.
Sir Claude Phillips, ‘The Camden Town Group’, Daily Telegraph, 17 December 1912, p.14.
Wendy Baron, The Camden Town Group, London 1979, p.322.

How to cite

Robert Upstone and Ysanne Holt, ‘Clarence Gardens 1912 by William Ratcliffe’, catalogue entry, January 2011, in Helena Bonett, Ysanne Holt, Jennifer Mundy (eds.), The Camden Town Group in Context, Tate Research Publication, May 2012,, accessed 23 March 2019.