Walter Sickert and his circle invited other artists to join the Fitzroy Street and Camden Town Groups. Among them was the son of a banker who had trained at the Académie Julian in Paris, Robert Polhill Bevan (1865–1925).
Bevan was born in Hove, on the south coast of England near Brighton, and in 1888 he started a brief period as a student at the Westminster School of Art before moving to Paris to study at the Académie Julian. Although it’s claimed that his fellow students there included Pierre Bonnard and several of those who were later to become Nabis, some of them were already at the École des Beaux-Arts, and it’s not clear whether Bevan ever came into contact with those artists in Paris. He did, though, visit the art colony at Pont-Aven in Brittany in 1890 and, more briefly, 1891.
In the autumn of 1891, Bevan travelled first to Madrid, where he studied the work of Diego Velázquez and Francisco Goya, before moving on to Tangier. He returned to Brittany in 1893, where he was encouraged by Paul Gauguin and Auguste Renoir. He arrived back in Britain the following year, and moved to Exmoor, where he apparently painted and hunted, a pursuit which had occupied much of his time when he was in North Africa. He married the Polish artist Stanisława de Karłowska in late 1897, and in subsequent years often visited her family estates in central Poland.
During this early part of his career, he often sketched in oils en plein air. Morning over the Ploughed Fields is an example of these paintings from about 1904, and was almost certainly made during one of his visits to Poland. It’s small, with fluid brushstrokes of vivid colour. He divides the almost featureless plain into bands, with blue trees in the distance, and the far splash of a barn. Pinholes at its corners suggest that Bevan painted this on canvas which was pinned to a board.
In 1905, Bevan had his first solo exhibition, which failed to attract critical attention. He then apparently experimented with a more Divisionist approach.
The Turn Rice-Plough, Sussex from about 1909 shows two ploughmen turning a plough in a field in the south-east of England. Its title is enigmatic: rice wasn’t grown there, and might be a simple error for turnwrest, a dialect name used in Kent and Sussex to describe any type of one-way plough which needed to be turned at the end of a furrow as shown here.
Bevan exhibited five paintings in the first exhibition of the Allied Artists’ Association in London in 1908. His work was noticed by Harold Gilman and Spencer Gore, leading to his being invited to join the Fitzroy Street Group. When Sickert and his close circle were forming the Camden Town Group in 1911, Bevan was invited to be one of its sixteen members, and accepted.
He painted The Cab Horse in about 1910 using ‘anti-realist’ colours, and showed this at the first exhibition of the Camden Town Group. By this time, Bevan had a particular interest in the remaining working horses in London, including the horse shown here being harnessed to a hansom cab. The figure on the left is removing a blanket from the animal’s hindquarters, although their dress doesn’t suggest that this is a cold day.
Bevan’s Horse Sale at the Barbican from 1912 follows Sickert’s advice to paint everyday scenes from life in London, and is a reminder that the city, here in Aldersgate, used to have auctions of bloodstock.
The title of Bevan’s painting “Quiet with all Road Nuisances” from about 1912 quotes from the auctioneer’s description of this horse at another sale, and should have made this animal a good purchase for working in town.
After 1910, Bevan stopped visiting Poland in the summer. Instead, he spent much of the season among the Blackdown Hills, on the border between Devon and Somerset, where he painted in the Bolham Valley and around the village of Luppitt, to the north of Honiton, Devon.
Like other members of the Camden Town Group, Bevan was a careful draftsman, and his oil paintings often started as sketches before being squared up and transferred to canvas. He drew this view of Swiss Cottage, Hampstead in 1912-13. The Swiss Cottage of the title refers to a part of Hampstead, now in the London Borough of Camden, named after a pub named the Swiss Tavern, now Ye Olde Swiss Cottage. This view shows a parade of shops rather than the pub, and has been carefully projected to a vanishing point off the paper to the far right.
Bevan painted Haze over the Valley in about 1913, when he was spending the summer at Applehayes, a farm in the Blackdown Hills owned by an amateur artist, Harold Bertram Harrison (1855–1924), who had studied at the Slade School in London from 1896.
In 1913, Bevan had a further solo exhibition at the Carfax Gallery in London, which had hosted those of the Camden Town Group. When that group transformed into the London Group in 1913, Bevan was elected its treasurer.
During 1914-15, he rented a first-floor studio in Cumberland Market, Camden Town, which was London’s specialist hay and straw market. Bevan’s studio was the centre for a small group consisting of himself, Gilman, Charles Ginner and John Nash, who became known as the Cumberland Market Group. They exhibited together at the Goupil Gallery in 1915.
The Weigh House, Cumberland Market from about 1914 shows this market in its last years, before it closed in the late 1920s. It was situated between Regent’s Park and Euston railway station, but was demolished during and after the Second World War to form a large housing estate.
Robert Upstone (ed) (2008), Modern Painters: The Camden Town Group, Tate Publishing. ISBN 978 1 85437 781 4.