Cullompton. Report from the Literature & Art Section

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Author(s): Barden. Valerie; Year published: 2016; Origin: Section Conference Reports; Pages: 
Topic(s): art and literature; Location(s): Cullompton

The Camden Town Group — The Devon Connection

As defined by the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Camden Town Group (whose work I particularly admire) was a group of English Post-impressionist artists, who met on a weekly basis in the studio of the painter Walter Sickert in Camden Town (Fitzroy Square) around 1910. The Group included, amongst others, Harold Gilman, Frederick Spencer Gore, Henry Lamb, Robert Bevan, Lucien Pisarro, Malcolm Drummond and Charles Ginner. Many of them had lived and painted in France and were well aware of the developments in contemporary French art: emphasis on the picture surface, the use of colour in a pictorial rather than naturalistic way, and the importance of strong design. Van Gogh, Gauguin, Seurat were all inspirational. Subject matter was the ordinary world around them, and paintings were kept small, ‘little pictures for little patrons’ as Sickert put it, rather than huge Academy pieces to impress the establishment.

Some of these Camden Town artists, chiefly Spencer Gore, Bevan and Ginner, have a connection with Devon through their involvement with an artists’ colony, set up by Harold Bertram Harrison (1855-1924) in Clayhidon, now in Devon but, in the early twentieth century, in Somerset. Harrison had been a mature student at the Slade from 1896-98, and remained interested in what was going on there. He was a rich man and in 1909 bought a large farm, Applehayes, in Clayhidon. He added a studio wing with accommodation, and asked the advice of Professor Tonks, then head of the Slade, which students he should invite. Spencer Gore, Robert Bevan and Charles Ginner were proposed. It was an attractive proposition, Applehayes being situated in remote, unvisited countryside on the Devon-Somerset border.

The Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter has a small but important collection of Camden Town Group paintings, two of which were painted at Applehayes — one by Ginner, Clayhidon 1913, and another by Bevan, A Devonshire Valley 1913, which both, in their different ways, exemplify the Camden Town approach to painting. The Ginner is a thickly painted landscape, the picture plane emphasised by the impasto, the absence of skyline and the patterned fields on the tilted hillside. Nevertheless, it is still so redolent of the place. Ginner strongly felt that artists should not simply imitate the innovations of artists they admired — Van Gogh or Gauguin. He wrote ‘All great painters, by direct intercourse with Nature, have extracted from her facts which others have not absorbed before, and interpreted them by methods which are personal and expressive of themselves — this is the great tradition of Realism’. When I once went to find the spot from which Clayhidon had been painted, I realised that liberties had been taken with the subject, yet it was still that place and nowhere else, exemplifying his statement. The Robert Bevan is a similar landscape, but here with Bevan’s personal use of violets and yellows and strong outlined drawing of the shapes of the buildings, fields and trees, all emphasising the picture plane without losing that sense of place.

Two landscape paintings by Lucien Pisarro, a founder member of the Camden Town Group, can also be seen in the RAMM — High View, Fish Ponds 1915 (Dorset), and Apple Blossom, River’s Bridge Farm, Blackpool, 1915 (Devon, four miles south-west of Dartmouth).

The 1914-18 war made hospitality difficult for Harrison, and the artists ceased going to Clayhidon, though Bevan continued to return to the area to paint for some years. Several other paintings done at Applehayes have found their way into museums throughout England.

Valerie Barden

Editor’s note: Clayhidon is to the north-east of Cullompton. Valerie Barden is one of our artist members and she and her husband Robert Organ exhibited some of their work at the Cullompton conference.

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