Welcome to the colourful world of Harold Gilman, a masterful artist whose vibrant depictions of London life have left an indelible mark on the canvas of British art history. This blog post is dedicated to exploring Gilman’s journey from his foundational studies at the Slade School of Fine Art, to his transformation after experiencing the groundbreaking “Manet and the Post-Impressionists” exhibition, and his lasting impact as a key member of the Camden Town Group.
Immerse yourself in the captivating evolution of Gilman’s artistic style, from the traditional influence of the old masters and English landscapes, to his radical adoption of Post-Impressionist techniques. Discover how Gilman’s work, imbued with warmth, luminosity, and an audacious use of colour, redefined the portrayal of everyday scenes, forever transforming the face of English painting.
Join us as we journey through the London that Gilman knew – from Camden Town to Hampstead, from his shared studio on Maple Street to his creative space in Letchworth. Learn about the very real people and places that became the subjects of his art, and how his honest portrayals offered a refreshing, authentic perspective in a time of idealised and fantastical artistic trends. Through this lens, we’ll view Gilman not just as a pioneering artist, but also as a mentor, teacher, and relentless advocate for art that reflects the true essence of daily life and the people who live it.
Ready to embark on this artistic voyage through early 20th-century London? Then, let’s begin our exploration of the remarkable life and legacy of Harold Gilman – a true icon of British modernism.
Harold Gilman (1876-1919), was a distinguished member of the Camden Town Group, an influential collective of artists based in London in the early 20th century. The group, active from 1911 to 1913, is known for its contribution to the development of modernist art in Britain, with Gilman playing a pivotal role.
Gilman’s artistic journey began with his education at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, followed by a period of study in Spain. His early work was deeply rooted in the British tradition, particularly influenced by the old masters and the landscapes of the English countryside.
However, Gilman’s style took a radical shift following his exposure to Post-Impressionism at the exhibition “Manet and the Post-Impressionists” held at the Grafton Galleries in 1910. This was the first large-scale exhibition of Post-Impressionist artworks in England, featuring the works of Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Paul Cézanne, and others.
Gilman’s admiration for Vincent van Gogh is particularly evident in his later work, with his use of vibrant, contrasting colours and his meticulous attention to detail. His interpretation of domestic interiors, portraits, and scenes of London life became more experimental and audacious, marked by vivid colour palettes and bold brushwork. Gilman began to fill his canvases with a warmth and luminosity that was new to English painting, transforming ordinary scenes into extraordinary vistas of colour and light.
His paintings, such as “Mrs Mounter at the Breakfast Table” and “Tea in the Bedsitter,” are prime examples of his distinctive style. They showcase his ability to turn everyday scenes into rich, complex compositions that vibrantly express the character and mood of the subjects.
Despite his untimely death in 1919 during the influenza pandemic, Gilman’s influence on British modernism was substantial. His contribution to the Camden Town Group helped shape the course of 20th-century British art, leaving a lasting legacy that continues to inspire artists today.
Through his pioneering spirit and innovative approach to colour and composition, Harold Gilman helped to bring Post-Impressionist principles into British art, bridging the gap between the traditional and the modern, and forever altering the landscape of British painting.
During his time in London, Gilman became a prominent figure within the local art community, not just as an artist but also as a mentor and teacher. He was a staunch advocate for creating art that genuinely reflected the daily lives of the people and the city, a stance that was somewhat contrary to the more idealised or fantastical trends popular in the art world at the time.
The Camden Town Group
A focal point of his career was his connection to the Camden Town Group, which he helped to establish in 1911 along with Walter Sickert and others. Named after the district of London where they frequently met, this group aimed to represent the real and unvarnished side of urban life. Their subjects often included scenes from ordinary homes, streets, and public places, bringing a new perspective to British art that focused on the social and psychological realities of modern urban life.
Gilman lived in and worked from a number of locations in London, including Camden Town and Hampstead, frequently using these local settings as the backdrop for his art. For instance, his painting ‘Tea in the Bedsitter’ depicted his shared studio at 47 Maple Street, while his series of ‘Nude on a Couch’ paintings was created in his Letchworth studio.
A particular feature of Gilman’s work in London was his portrayal of women, often shown in domestic settings. His relationship with his model and housekeeper, Mrs Sylvia Mounter, influenced some of his most notable works. Gilman’s portrayal of Mounter at home, immersed in domestic tasks, presents her as an individual with her own identity, rather than a generic or idealised figure, highlighting his progressive approach towards his subjects.
Unfortunately, Gilman’s life and promising career were cut short by the influenza pandemic of 1919. However, his innovative style and his dedication to portraying the authenticity of everyday life left a significant mark on British modernism. Today, his works are housed in many major museums and continue to inspire and influence artists and art enthusiasts around the world.
Harold Gilman’s life in London was one marked by artistic exploration, innovation, and a unique ability to capture the essence of the city and its inhabitants. His legacy endures, reflecting the transformative period of British art in the early 20th century and continuing to shape our understanding of it today.
Find out more about the Camden Town Group