Another of the leading members of Walter Sickert’s Fitzroy Street Group, from its foundation in 1907, who went on to be one of the sixteen elected members of the Camden Town Group, was Harold Gilman (1876–1919). Like Spencer Gore, who was only two years younger, he trained at the Slade School of Art between 1897-1901. Gilman had been brought up in the Romney Marshes in Kent, one of seven children of the Rector of Snargate. Gore and Gilman became friends when they were students at the Slade, and Gore and his wife later looked after Gilman’s house in Letchworth Garden City while Gilman was overseas in Norway.
Shortly after completing his training at the Slade, Gilman went to Madrid, where he copied the paintings of Diego Velázquez. Early in 1903, he married the American painter Grace Cornelia Canedy (1869-1965), who was also copying there at the time. The couple returned to live in London, and by 1908 had moved out to a house at 15 Westholm Green in Letchworth, later moving to 100 Wilbury Road, where he was living in 1912.
Gilman painted domestic interiors, such as this early Edwardian Interior from about 1907. This shows the drawing room of his family home in the Rectory at Snargate, with the artist’s youngest sister as model.
In 1909, his wife Grace left him to return to the USA with their three children, and they subsequently divorced.
Like Gore, Gilman was greatly influenced by early exhibitions of post-Impressionist paintings in England, in particular Roger Fry’s inaugural Manet and the Post-Impressionists in 1910.
It’s thought that this Interior Scene which he painted in about 1912 shows a house in Norway, and may have been made when Gore was house-sitting for him. Although apparently an oil sketch, it demonstrates how his style had changed, with its extensive use of bright colour.
Initially, Gilman had followed Impressionist practice of painting outdoors in front of the motif, but by 1912, he had taken to making detailed sketches in pen and ink, which he then developed into oil paintings in the studio. This is thought to show a Norwegian Landscape, made during one of his two visits to the Nordic countries.
Among the finest of his studies made during his visit is this of a Canal Bridge, Flekkefjord from the summer of 1913. It bears extensive annotations mostly concerning colours and tones, and was later turned into the studio painting below.
His finished painting of the Canal Bridge, Flekkefjord probably dates from the same year. Although the bridge is reminiscent of Van Gogh’s paintings in Provence, his style is very different.
Back in England, still in about 1913, he drew this study of Leeds Market using ink and graphite. He squared the paper up using red ink into unusually small areas, for transfer to canvas in the finished painting below. During that, he rearranged the figures, but retained the meticulous geometry of the building. This building had only been constructed in 1901-04, and housed the fruit and vegetable stalls next to the grand central hall.
His finished oil painting of Leeds Market, also from about 1913, is roughly twice the size of the study above, and retains much of its detail. His colours have become more muted, and are applied using small regular brushstrokes.
In 1913, the Camden Town Group merged with the Fitzroy Street Group and Vorticists to form the London Group, and Gilman became its first president. He exhibited with Gore, and with Ginner, describing himself as a Neo-Realist. Between 1914-17, Gilman returned to live in London, at 47 Maple Street, off Tottenham Court Road in the centre of town.
Gilman painted many portraits too, of which the most famous are his series of five paintings of Mrs Mounter, his landlady at the time, which he made between 1916-17. This is thought to be one of the earlier in the series, and is now in the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. Its colours are richer in chroma again, and here he has applied paint relatively evenly across his canvas.
The version in the Tate Gallery in London titled Mrs Mounter at the Breakfast Table is smaller, and later in the series. Its colours are more extreme, and the paint built up using layers of brushstrokes to give texture to the model’s face. Notable is the omission from this version of the chair which is shown at the right in the Liverpool painting.
Contemporary critics considered these portraits to be among his most significant works.
Gilman taught at the Westminster School of Art before starting his own school in partnership with Charles Ginner, another of the Camden Town Group. When he learned that his divorce had been granted in 1918, Gilman married one of his students.
I believe that the Mother and Child shown in his painting from 1918 are his second wife, (Dorothy) Sylvia Hardy (née Meyer) (1892–1971), and their son who had been born in late 1917.
In 1918 he was commissioned to paint Halifax Harbour in Nova Scotia. After his return from Canada, in early 1919, he caught pandemic influenza, and died in London on 12 February 1919, the day after his forty-third birthday. At its height during the winter of 1918-19, three thousand Londoners died each week of flu.
Robert Upstone (ed) (2008), Modern Painters: The Camden Town Group, Tate Publishing. ISBN 978 1 85437 781 4.