The Camden Town Group in Context

ISBN 978-1-84976-385-1

W.R., ‘Round the Galleries’

Sunday Times, 29 December 1912, p.6.

ROUND THE GALLERIES.
The Camden Town Group.
 At the Carfax Galleries the band of painters who have formed the somewhat elastic society known now as the Camden Town Group are holding their third exhibition of paintings. While full of sincere and considered work, the exhibition as a whole leaves a distinct feeling of disappointment. It contains a few vital things, but in the majority of canvases one is conscious of the presence of something that is dangerously akin to dulness. More than one exhibitor having arrived at a certain position and being recognised for certain qualities seems quite satisfied to repeat former successes. There is no falling off in technical matters; each artist paints as cunningly as ever, and with infinite pains to produce something against which no charge of incompetence could possibly be brought. Carelessness in any form or guise exists nowhere on these walls. On the contrary, the standard of accomplishment is high, and in itself is a thing to admire and extract a grateful pleasure from. The best-known member of the group, Mr. Walter Sickert shows three canvases, the most important of which, “Summer in Naples” (34), is an intimate study of a bedroom with a nude female sitting at one end of the bed, and a fully-dressed male at the other. Few artists are so persistently and intensely interesting as Mr. Sickert, and in this picture he is as interesting as ever, and almost as fresh. The woman rests on the bed just as she might do without shame or indecency, and her companion leans forward as though unaware of her presence, and, indeed, indifferent to it. Some people protest against such a picture as being ugly or coarse, but then these critics praise in the same breath nudes with flesh of a kid glove texture, which really make a direct appeal to the senses and are utterly without any meaning or significance. Mr. Sickert paints this woman without her clothes in a setting consistent with a state of nudity; he does not set her scampering through a wood, or tip-toeing over a hill; and, smoothing out every line and wrinkle in the flesh until silk or satin are not more smooth, call the result “The Wood Nymph,” or “April”! But what one often feels about Mr. Sickert is that he never goes very deep beneath the surface of things. He illustrates life but never illuminates it. He discovers nothing that is not apparent to the average onlooker. A very different artist from Mr. Sickert is Mr. Bayes. Mr. Bayes has a sense of decoration which is quite his own and through which he expresses himself in a way that appeals to the imagination at once. Of his exhibits here “Le Petit Casino” (35) and “Shade” (36) impress one as the work of a man who has an ideal of beauty in his mind. They are arrangements of something actually seen and we feel that the artist was interested in the life he depicts and that he saw something in it which approximated to the sense of beauty dwelling within himself. These decorative arrangements by Mr. Bayes have qualities which come from a perception of the inner beauty and meaning of all things and it is this perception which distinguishes them from the decorative work of the majority of other contemporary painters. In Mr. Lucien Pissarro’s exhibits we have things also charged with this perception. Mr. Pissarro is little concerned with technical matters; as a mere painter he is less expert and accomplished than any other exhibitor here. He paints because he has to. At first sight such a work as his “Stamford Brook Green (Snow)” (11) looks almost empty and incomplete but a further study will reveal a mind moved and alive with thoughts and ideas and emotions. A whole world separates Mr. Pissarro from Mr. Gilman, whose work seems in large measure to be the outcome of a well-balanced brain and an inquiring mind. Mr. Gilman’s pictures leave one with the impression that he has never found anything in life or nature to astonish him or move him in the least to wondering enjoyment. But he faces a subject determined to get as much out of it as he can, and it may be said of him that he does generally succeed in producing something which it is impossible not to respect. As a rule he is most at home in interiors and portraits but by far the best of his works in the present instance is “Reapers, Sweden” (20), a vivid and broad rendering of figures in the open air. Full of strength and forcefulness, the reapers bending to their task have been seized and put upon canvas in such a way that we are conscious of their lot; nor is there wanting in the representation evidence that the essential dignity and significance of such labour have been realised by the artist and that to convey this was also part of his aim, even though perhaps an unconscious aim. Mr. Gilman has certainly enhanced his reputation by the exhibiting of this canvas. As much cannot be said of anything by Mr. Gore. As a rule Mr. Gore’s pictures are full of freshness and have even a lyrical note which is a rare thing indeed to be able to record of any English landscape painter. But here is neither freshness nor the faintest trace of buoyancy of any kind. These four canvases by Mr. Gore do not represent him at even his second best. Of Mr. Ginner’s exhibits, “Piccadilly Circus” (24) is by far the most interesting. It is interesting, however, from a technical standpoint and will appeal to his fellow painters rather than to those who are concerned with pictures apart altogether from the question of paint and its manipulation. Of the other exhibitors, Mr. Manson in “Moonlight and Snow” (8) stands out as an artist with a distinct and personal point of view.
The Chenil Gallery.
 At the Chenil Gallery a visitor is generally sure to find something to interest him and hold his attention and when I dropped in there the other afternoon it was to discover a whole room devoted to Mr. Augustus E. John. In other rooms are works by other painters, but Mr. John’s is such a compelling personality that one lingers over his pictures and drawings and the hours have slipped past ere one is aware. Many people consider Mr. John the most original painter working in England to-day and there is abundant evidence here to support this opinion. Certainly Mr. John stimulates one as no other English artist does. He continually surprises and grips and even while we may make a little mental reservation before some of his canvases we are held, almost in spite of ourselves, in wonder and admiration. There are two landscapes in the present exhibition, both entitled “The Arran [sic] Isles,” so full of vigour and vitality expressed in such original terms that the word genius leaps into the mind at a first glance. I hardly think Nature has many inner secrets for Mr. John and there is seldom a sign that she wakes in him any emotion that is profound or deep but she certainly fills him with a fine material joy which every inch of paint communicates. These two landscapes are the rich prose of a man standing squarely up to Nature and finding her wonderful and rare like a bountiful wine. As a beautiful piece of painting it would be difficult to imagine anything more desirable than “Two Gitanas” (50). Beautiful painting it is and very little else but it is really so fine and done with so much gusto that we take it for what it is and are satisfied. There is more in the “Portrait of a Young Man” (48) – more insight, a deeper purpose, evidence of Mr. John being impressed with the significance of his subject first. The painting is wonderful but we think less of this and more of the personality on the canvas. In some drawings in the room adjoining Mr. John expresses himself perhaps more truly than in oil paint. They reveal an attitude to life and in themselves are comments. Such drawings as “Refreshments” (82) and “Conversation” (79) could only have come from the pencil of a man who sees the passing show of the world with a critical eye.
W. R.

How to cite

W.R., ‘Round the Galleries’, in Sunday Times, 29 December 1912, p.6, 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/wr-round-the-galleries-r1104266, accessed 17 June 2019.