Earlier this year I wrote a series of articles looking at members of the Camden Town Group and their outer circle, including Douglas Fox Pitt (1864–1922). A century ago today, on 19 September 1922, Fox Pitt died. This article, based on my earlier account, commemorates the centenary of his death.
Douglas Fox Pitt was the son of Augustus Lane Fox, better known under his later name of Lieutenant-General Fox Pitt Rivers, whose anthropological and archaeological collection formed the basis of the Pitt Rivers Museum in the University of Oxford. He had changed his name when he inherited a country estate substantial enough to support him and his family in the style that they desired.
Young Douglas Fox Pitt didn’t need to work, and found it hard to choose an occupation. He initially started to train as an architect, then went to Canada and South America to farm for a while. In 1890, he tried his hand at painting. With his earlier training in drawing, his father, by then the Inspector of Ancient Monuments, sent him to draw plans and make sketches of old castles and houses.
Fox Pitt became a pupil at the Slade School of Fine Art for a short while, where he met Harold Gilman, later one of the leading members of the Camden Town Group. An even closer friend was Walter Taylor (1860-1943), probably the most affluent of the artists in Walter Sickert’s circle, but another who remained just outside the Camden Town Group. Fox Pitt and Taylor travelled together painting in Britain and overseas; Fox Pitt visited France frequently, Poland, Corfu, Cyprus, Sri Lanka and Morocco.
His The Stafford Gallery from 1912 is an unusual watercolour with its elevated view which recalls Spencer Gore’s Gauguins and Connoisseurs painted the previous year. While Gore’s painting (no image of which is in the public domain) shows a landmark exhibition of Post-Impressionist paintings in this gallery, Fox Pitt shows an early exhibition of the Scottish Colourist J D Fergusson held from 9 March 1912. The painting shown most prominently is Fergusson’s La Dame aux Oranges (c 1908–09), whose location is now unknown. To the left is The Red Shawl (1908), and on the right is Le Manteau Chinois (1909). The viewpoint is the same landing used by Gore for his earlier painting.
The following year, Fox Pitt was one of the founder members of the London Group, successor to the Camden Town Group.
As with the members of the Camden Town Group, Fox Pitt painted some domestic interiors, including this Interior with Maid from about 1913. This watercolour has faint squaring-up suggesting that the artist may have used it as a study for a finished work. As in The Stafford Gallery, his choice of paintings is significant.
Above the fireplace is Harold Gilman’s Norwegian Street Scene (Kirkegaten, Flekkerfjord) (1913), and above the bright cushion is Charles Ginner’s The Wet Street, Dieppe (1911). Both of these were owned by Fox Pitt, who gathered a modest collection of the paintings of the Camden Town Group. It’s thought that the sofa throw came from the Omega Workshops, established by Roger Fry, Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell. Together these make it a truly avant garde interior.
While the focus of many of the paintings of the Camden Town Group was everyday London, Fox Pitt had a particular affection for Brighton, sometimes known as ‘London-on-Sea’, which was developing rapidly at the time. He lived there between 1911 and 1918.
Concert on the West Pier, Brighton is a sketch in charcoal and watercolour painted by Fox Pitt in about 1916-18, showing a daytime orchestral concert in the grand concert hall on the West Pier in Brighton. This can’t have been painted before April 1916, when the hall opened. Its octagonal design was implemented in a skeleton of cast iron arches which created sufficient space to seat 1,400. This painting was probably influenced by Harold Gilman’s painting of Leeds Market (c 1913), which had been shown at the London Group exhibition of 1915, and was bought from there by Walter Taylor, who shared accommodation for some of the time that Fox Pitt lived in Brighton.
At the end of the First World War, Fox Pitt moved from Brighton to live in Thorpe in Surrey, but he painted at least one more view of Brighton, this time of its Royal Pavilion, which had been built in Indo-Saracenic style for King George IV when he was Prince of Wales from 1787 onwards.
Indian Army Wounded in Hospital in the Dome, Brighton from 1919 is one of his few oil paintings, and shows the Pavilion in its role as a military hospital with two operating theatres and more than seven hundred beds. It was unusual for its time in providing for a wide range of religious, ethnic and dietary needs. However, this painting was made three years after that hospital had closed, following which it had been reopened for the many amputees from the war, providing them with rehabilitation and training. That closed in the summer of 1920.
After the war, Fox Pitt’s health deteriorated, and he suffered from cancer. He died in Brighton on 19 September 1922, at the age of only fifty-seven.
Robert Upstone (ed) (2008), Modern Painters: The Camden Town Group, Tate Publishing. ISBN 978 1 85437 781 4.