The Camden Town Group was a group of English Post-Impressionist artists who were active between 1911 and 1913. This hallowed group included Lucien Pissarro, the son of the French Impressionist, Camille Pissarro, Wyndham Lewis, Walter Sickert, Augustus John and today’s featured artist, just to name a few. Their meeting place was usually at the Camden Town studio of the Munich-born painter, Walter Sickert, a leading light in the transition between Impressionism and Modernism. My Daily Art Display featured artist of the day is Robert Polhill Bevan.
Bevan was born in Hove, near Brighton in 1865. He was the fourth of six children of Richard Alexander Bevan and Laura Maria Polhill. He was originally trained as an artist under Arthur Pearce. As well as being a drawing teacher, Pearce had worked as an illustrator and had exhibited at the Royal Academy. Later he would join the Royal Doulton pottery company where he became their chief designer. When Bevan was twenty-three years of age he attended the Westminster School of Art and was tutored by the painter, Fred Brown, who would later move to the Slade School of Art and teach the likes of Augustus John and Wyndham Lewis. After this initial training Bevan moved to Paris and studied art at the Académie Julian where he met some aspiring French artists, such as Édouard Villiers, Pierre Bonnard and Paul Sérusier and became great friends with another English artist, Eric Forbes-Robertson. Whilst living in France Bevan and Forbes-Robertson visited the artist colony at Pont-Aven in Britanny. Bevan was to visit this area many times over the years and became friends with Paul Gaugin and Renoir and art historians believe that judging from some of his early works he may have come into contact with Van Gogh. He returned to England in 1894 and settled in Exmoor, in the south-west of the country. Three years later he met the Polish artist Stanislawa de Karlowska when he attended the wedding of his close friend Eric Forbes-Robertson in Jersey. At the end of 1897 Bevan and de Karlowska married in Warsaw where her parents lived and owned extensive land in the heart of the country. Throughout the couples lifetime they would return there each summer to visit. It was during his long summer stays in Poland that Bevan produced his most colourful paintings. The influence of his friend Gaugin can be seen in these early works. Their first child, Edith Halina, was born at the end of the following year. Bevan and his wife left Devon in 1900 and moved to London and Stanislawa gave birth to their second child, a son Robert Alexander in 1901. In 1905 Bevan held his first solo exhibition but it did not receive the great acclaim he had hoped for from the art critics of the time and few of his paintings were sold. Although very disheartened with the outcome of the exhibition he held his second exhibition three years later in 1908 and some of his paintings on display were in the pointillist style of Seurat and Signac, the first time he had used that technique. (See My Daily Art Displays of October 21st and November 9th). That year he exhibited five of his paintings at the first Allied Artists’ Association exhibition. This organisation had been formed by a London journalist and art critic for The Sunday Times, and early champion of English Modern Art, Frank Rutter. His main aim was to promote Modernist Art in Britain. Artists could exhibit their works without them having to first be subjected to a selection jury, unlike the Royal Academy Exhibition. It was an association very similar to one that was set up in Paris in the summer of 1884, called the Salon des Indépendants, another non-juried organisation, and which was, in some ways, in direct competition with the Paris Salon which like the Royal Academy had a jury to select paintings that were allowed to be shown. Soon after his exhibition he was invited to join the group of artists formed by Walter Sickert, entitled the Fitzroy Street Group and out of this group was spawned in 1911 The Camden Town Group. In John Yeats social history book about The Camden Town Artists, he writes that Sickert advised Bevan about what subjects he should depict in his works. Sickert told him:
“…paint what really interests you and look around and see the beauty of everyday things…”
After this advice Bevan went off and completed a series of works depicting the horse cab trade in London and its steady but inevitable decline. After this Bevan concentrated on pictorially recording what went on at horse sales, especially the ones which were held at Tattersall’s and it is one of those works which is My Daily Art Display featured painting for today. The Camden Town Group relied on the goodwill of Arthur Clifton who ran the Carfax Gallery in London for he put on the groups exhibitions but after three exhibitions which failed to get critical acclaim and left many paintings unsold, Clifton declined to hold any more of their displays in his gallery although he would give space to some of the artists from the group. This marked the beginning of the end for the Camden Town Group.
Robert Bevan continued painting. His works often depicted London scenes or scenes of the countryside where he spent most of his summers. Prior to the First World War he would spend the summers in his wife’s homeland of Poland but later they took their summer vacations around Devon and Somerset.
Bevan died in London in 1925, aged 60. In 2008, the Tate put on a major retrospective exhibition of the Camden Town Group.
My Daily Art Display painting today is entitled Showing at Tattersalls and was painted by Robert Bevan in 1919. Tattersalls is the major auctioneer of race horses in Great Britain and Eire. It dates back to 1766 and was founded by Richard Tattersall who had once been stud groom to the second Duke of Kingston. Originally it had been situated close to Hyde Park Corner in London but now is located in Newmarket, the home of horse racing.
I love this painting. It is simple and yet pleasing to the eye. Before us we see two horses being paraded in front of potential buyers. We are there. We are being allowed to watch the goings-on at the stables. The figures themselves mostly have their backs to us which allows Bevan to do away with carefully crafted facial expressions and their long clothing gives them a straight up-and-down appearance. Bevan has spent time in the detail of the horses and their musculature and the sinews are in harmony with the animals’ movements. The chestnut horse stands out well against the red door of the building and the blue-tinted horse, similar to the colour of the coats of the handlers, contrasts well against the yellow coloured building. This backdrop of the yellow-coloured buildings looks like the stables which are attached to the yard and adds lightness to the work.
The simplicity of this painting is charming and as I look at it I feel the urge to step forward into the arena before me and enjoy the thrill of the auction preview. I came across this painting when I recently visited the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. I had gone there to view the Claude Lorrain exhibition and was absolutely staggered by what was on display at this museum. Its collections of paintings were exceptional and I do urge everybody to try and visit it. You will not be disappointed.
Finally I must pay tribute to a website from which I got a lot of information about the painting itself and have done my best not to plagiarise it too much. The author of the blog, unlike me, is an artist and her interpretation of her painting is excellent. It is a wonderful blog and well worth a visit. It is called personalinterpretations and the website address is:
Her piece on this painting was in her blog of August 18th.