The British artist Harold John Wilde Gilman (11 February 1876 – 12 February 1919) was a founder-member of the Camden Town Group. Developing an interest in art during a childhood convalescence period, he began his artistic training after a non-collegiate year at Oxford University (again cut short by ill health) and time working as a tutor to an English family living in Odessa. Studying at the Hastings School of Art (1896) and then the Slade School of Fine Art (1897–1901), he then spent over a year studying the Spanish masters (Velázquez as well as Whistler were major early influences).
The principal artists responsible for the inception of the Camden Town Group were Walter Sickert, Spencer Gore, Charles Ginner, Harold Gilman and Robert Bevan. All five attended the regular meetings of the informal 'Fitzroy Street Group', from which the idea of forming the Camden Town Group was conceived. Although joined by other sympathetic players such as Malcolm Drummond, these were the key figures around whom the main activities, character and fame of Camden Town painting revolved.
Stylistic similarities within these portraits reinforce the common aesthetic ground shared by the core members. One of the points on which they agreed was a desire to rejuvenate British art by responding to recent developments in modern European art. Their works reveal the deliberate absorption of pictorial devices such as the Impressionist rendering of light, Divisionist dabs of paint, Fauvist chromatics and Post-Impressionist decorative form.
Gilman's early career was frustrated by lack of financial and artistic success. In 1907 he met the painter Walter Sickert and became a founder member of the Fitzroy Street Group, later joining the Camden Town Group in 1911. Both groups advocated local unglamorous subject matter and Gilman's work was strengthened by both associations. His concentration on domestic interiors, painted with subtle, unemphatic realism was a departure from the conventions of English painting at the time, as was his use of bright, pure colour. U
Oil on canvas, 1910-11
Allocated to the Tate Gallery 2010
Oil on canvas, circa 1913
Presented by the Very Rev. E. Milner-White 1927
Study for `Leeds Market'
Pen and ink on paper
Gilman was a member of the Camden Town group of artists who painted images of urban life. Leeds Market was painted from a detailed drawing made on the spot during a visit to Leeds.The vibrant, working-class life of the market (above) provided subject matter for several Camden Town painters. They were influenced by the Impressionists and their followers such as Van Gogh and Gauguin. This can be seen here in the strong colours and use of small, regular brushmarks. These give the painting a tight structure which is complemented by the pattern of iron struts of the market’s roof.
(From the display caption July 2007, tate.org.uk)
Oil on canvas, circa 1913
Retrieved from Tate gallery, 15 September 2008
Study for `Canal Bridge, Flekkefjord'
Pen and ink on paper
Gilman visited Scandinavia in 1912 and 1913, and may have travelled with the artist William Ratcliffe, who had relations there. Gilman made studies of the environment, and painted Canal Bridge, Flekkefjord, an accurate depiction, whose subject is likely to have been inspired by Vincent van Gogh's depiction of a similar bridge in Provence. Gilman had rejected Van Gogh's work when he first encountered it, but later became a strong admirer and, according to Wyndham Lewis, keeping postcards of Van Gogh's work on his wall and sometimes hanging one of his own works next to them, if he was especially satisfied with it.
Woman Sitting at a Table
oil on canvas, circa 1913
Miss Ruth Doggett, c. 1915
Retrieved from Easy Art, 15 September 2008
Under Walter Sickert's influence he was encouraged to experiment with new subjects such as the nude and interiors, and he became a detached observer of the world of London eating-houses, furnished rooms, landladies and parlours of the mid Edwardian years: these subjects he made his own. An impressive series of portraits (above) from 1913 revealed Gilman's degree of physiological insight and sympathy, particularly with the denizens of working-class London, portrayed with a clear-eyed lack of sentimentality.
Location Tate Gallery, London
Source/Photographer The Yorck Project
'Mrs. Mounter' is one of a series of images of Gilman's landlady in Maple Street that he painted between 1914 and 1917. This painting was probably painted around 1916/17. A smaller slightly earlier oil version without the chair is in the Tate, and pen and ink studies are in the Ashmolean Museum and the Walker Art Gallery.
There is also another oil painting of Mrs Mounter in the Leeds City Art Gallery.
During his career Gilman came increasingly to paint and draw the surrounding subjects that were important and dear to him. Mrs Mounter is not glamorised; he wanted to recreate specific real characters on canvas. This approach derived from his admiration not only of Van Gogh's directness in portraiture but also that of Cézanne and Gauguin. Therefore the same motifs of Mrs Mounter, the patterned wallpaper and crockery feature repeatedly in his later work.
This portrait is the artist's masterpiece. We might expect a woman in a portrait to look beautiful, rich or talented. This portrait does not make Mrs. Mounter look any of these things. Instead the artist tells us quite a lot about her through her face and surroundings.
Mrs. Mounter probably did not commission (pay for) this painting. She does not look comfortable being in this portrait. The painting also has quite an unusual, experimental look, using vivid colours and light.
The wallpaper in the background and the cups at the front of the painting are of the same brightness. We would usually expect the background to be darker than the foreground (front of the painting). Instead Gilman shows depth by making the cups and teapot at the front larger to make them seem nearer.
This is quite an ordinary room but the colours and the patterns in the painting brighten it considerably. The painting is typical of an artist who liked to paint pictures without natural colours. The walls glow turquoise and even the teapot and cups sparkle like jewels. The paint has been put on the canvas very thickly, creating lots of layers that reflect light. This effect can be seen particularly on Mrs. Mounter's face. It is a patchwork of colours that are reflected from the room in which she sits. However, despite being a rather harsh painting Gilman still manages to show his respect and sympathy for his landlady. She looks solid, homely and gentle.
Gilman produced lots of paintings like this one, of everyday people in ordinary streets and rooms. He did not use paint to imitate the real colour and texture of things. Instead he used bright, pure colour with unusual contrasts.
like Van Gogh and Gaugin.
Gilman has combined the structural elements of draughtsmanship that he learnt as a young man at the Slade School of Art, with a more restrained handling of the colour and impasto that he had been experimenting with from 1913, resulting in his distinctive mosaic-like style. The paint carefully applied in flat planes and definite vertical of the doorway counteract the strong colouring resulting in this balanced composition. The influence of Matisse is evident in the outlining of Mrs Mounter, thus containing the colour as in a stained glass window. 'Mrs Mounter' has a sense of monumentality and tranquillity akin to Johannes Vermeer's paintings of women in simple interiors that also have a strong geometric element, such as 'Young Woman with a Water Pitcher' c.1660-7. 'Mrs Mounter' is highly finished and very worked up yet it remains an intimate portrait.
Gilman developed a very individual style that had gone largely unnoticed when he died suddenly during the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1919. He sold very few works during his lifetime and it was not until the 1955 Arts Council exhibition of his work that he began to receive recognition for his short-lived but significant contribution to British modernism.