Walter Richard Sickert, Ennui, c.1914, Tate, © Tate
Charles Ginner, The Cafe Royal, 1911, Tate, © The Estate of Charles Ginner.
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The Camden Town Group
February 13-May 5, 2008
Modern Painters: The Camden Town Group is the first exhibition in 20 years to focus on the work of a circle of painters who were a leading force in modern British art in the years leading up to, and during the First World War. Founded by Walter Sickert in 1911, the Group chronicled changes in both British society and the rapidly developing city of London, depicting a powerful portrait of a nation in transition. Comprising over 100 paintings the exhibition brings together works by core members of the Group including Charles Ginner, Spencer Gore, Harold Gilman, and Robert Bevan. An important selection of key works by Sickert, including The Camden Town Murder series, will be displayed.
The exhibition explores how these artists responded to and captured the shared experience of modern life. Works such as Gilman’s Mrs Mounter at the Breakfast Table, c.1917 (Tate Collection), depict individuals in everyday domestic situations while Gore’s Balcony at the Alhambra, c.1911-12 (York City Art Gallery) highlights the vibrant popular culture of the music hall and Ginner’s Piccadilly Circus 1912 (Tate Collection), records the crowded centres and traffic-choked streets of the changing city.
Modern Painters looks at how the group’s choice of everyday subjects from urban life, and their bold, anti-naturalistic colouring presented a type of painting that was new and different in the London of 1911. Their distinctive style developed the possibilities of recent French Impressionist painting — their subjects were painted in dry, thick, crusty paint, applied in broken touches, and Gore, Ginner, Gilman and Bevan adopted a vibrant Post-Impressionist palette with brilliant, vibrating colour combinations of mauves and pinks and greens, while Sickert used the darker, richer tones of the Old Masters.
The exhibition shows how the Group explored changing sexual attitudes of the time. Sickert, Gore and Gilman in particular created images of women that were more overtly sexual in content than anything being produced in France, a frankness that reflected the contemporary writing of H.G. Wells, D.H. Lawrence and Rebecca West.
Some of the group were also drawn to the countryside and depicted views of unspoilt landscapes. Gore, Bevan and Ginner were regular visitors to Applehayes Farm Estate in Devonshire — a traditional English agricultural society within a wild landscape. Paintings such as Bevan’s A Devonshire Valley No.1c. 1913 (Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery) not only affirmed the beauty of the British countryside, but through their contrast with images of the city, emphasised the march of modern life elsewhere.
The exhibition is curated by Robert Upstone, Curator (Modern British Art) at Tate Britain. A fully illustrated catalogue, edited by Robert Upstone and including essays by a number of contributing authors will accompany the exhibition (priced £24.99).