Alongside Walter Sickert, it was probably Spencer Gore (1878–1914) who was the leading light of the Camden Town Group of artists. Gore was 33 when he found himself its first president, at a time when he was just coming under the influence of Post-Impressionists such as Cézanne and Gauguin.
Gore’s father had been a renowned sportsman, an excellent cricketer and winner of the Men’s Singles in the first Wimbledon lawn tennis championships of 1877. He was educated at prestigious Harrow School, and went on to study at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, where he befriended Harold Gilman, another leading member of the Camden Town Group. Gore was first introduced to Walter Sickert when they were both visiting Dieppe in 1904, and Gore was a founder member of the Fitzroy Street Group in 1907.
In the summer of 1907, it appears that Gore visited the country, probably Yorkshire in the north of England, where he painted this early view of An Extensive Landscape in Yorkshire, although there are no distinguishing landmarks to confirm the location.
Autumn, Sussex, also thought to have been painted in 1907, shows a country scene later in the year, probably around October, with half the deciduous trees in their autumn colours. This has more intense chroma, and its sky is more textured with short strokes of paint.
In 1909, Gore started renting a front room in a house at 31 Mornington Crescent, in Camden Town, close to Sickert’s studio at 19 Fitzroy Street, which was already the focus of the Fitzroy Street Group, and soon to become the centre for the Camden Town Group too.
Gore developed a fascination for the theatre and music hall, and in 1906 started regular visits to the Alhambra Theatre of Varieties in Leicester Square, well-known at the time for spectacular ballets and acrobats. Like Degas and others in Paris, he sketched performances, then turned those into studio paintings. This sketch of The Alhambra Theatre, “On the Sands” was made in 1910, using black chalk and graphite, and appears more compositional in purpose. The artist has squared it up for transfer to canvas.
Ballet Scene from “On the Sands” (1910) is Gore’s finished painting. He has amended the foreground structure at the lower left, representing the front of the box or gallery he was seated in, but most of the other details appear faithful to his sketch. He has divided much of his canvas between the ballet on the stage at the upper left, and the musicians in the orchestra pit in the lower right.
Gore developed his brushstrokes in Tennis at Hertingfordbury from 1910. This quiet and genteel village is not far from Hertford, the county town of Hertfordshire, to the north of London.
Gore’s painting of the musical double act of Inez and Taki (1910) is another of his views from inside the Alhambra Theatre of Varieties. They are playing antiquated lyre guitars, which is an odd choice of instrument.
Gore painted this view of Mornington Crescent in 1911, from the window of his rented front room at number 31. Although this might look quite rural, these gardens were small, and vanished when a factory was built there fifteen years later. This was the London of the Camden Town Group.
In November 1911, Gore visited the Stafford Gallery for An Exhibition of Pictures by Paul Cézanne and Paul Gauguin, held in the wake of Roger Fry’s inaugural exhibition Manet and the Post-Impressionists the previous year. It was there that Gore first overtly expressed himself in similar terms. His painted homage to that exhibition, Gauguins and Connoisseurs (1911) was bought by Michael Sadler, who already owned several of Gauguin’s paintings which had been shown there.
Gore first met ‘Mollie’ (Mary Johanna) Kerr in 1911. She trained as a dancer at the Opera in Edinburgh, but seems to have been working as an artists’ model after moving to London. Gore painted her on several occasions, here in 1913, by which time she had become The Artist’s Wife. The couple married in January 1912, following which they moved to a small first-floor flat nearby at 2 Houghton Place. That’s where I will resume this account next week.
Robert Upstone (ed) (2008), Modern Painters: The Camden Town Group, Tate Publishing. ISBN 978 1 85437 781 4.