It always strikes me as odd what artists choose for subjects. Sometimes I’m more fascinated by the choice of subject than their delivery!
Well, one interesting chap I’ve been recently thinking about is Harold Gilman, who is one of the founders of the Camden Group, but he’s up in Leeds quite often now because of Frank Rutter, whom I’ve mentioned in previous journal entries. Rutter became the Director of Leeds City Art Gallery last year, and he’s an enthusiastic admirer and reviewer of Gilman’s work. I’ve asked Isabella about Gilman because I find his work intriguing but she just shrugged, muttering something about him being bald and old. Clearly, those two characteristics alone are enough to expel him from the Hall of Glorious Art if you ask my daughter. He’s actually younger than I am as far as I know (thank you very much, Isabella).
Rutter also invites another Camden Town Artist Charles Ginner quite frequently too. Of course Sir Michael [Sadler] is involved in weaving the web too: He holds monthly meetings at his home in Buckingham House on Headingley Lane, where his collection of works by Gauguin, Van Gogh, Klee, Kandinsky and modern British painters is housed. Gilman and Ginner, as well as the Rothensteins and their circle, often come up to contribute to this aesthetic seminary. Very exciting, and oh so London! Maybe one day Sir Michael will need a good shorthand secretary to be present at these meetings….
Anyway, back to subject matter and Gilman. He paints interiors, portraits and landscapes, sometimes using garish colours that are not actually there, but his paintings still make sense if you know what I mean. Sometimes they look even more realistic than my favourite Chowney or the ever-so-popular Herkomer. He obviously admires Van Gogh’s work, at least his generosity with real-life colours suggest so! Here’s how I found out about him. As everyone else, I go to the marketplace quite often myself and one day earlier this year I spotted a man making swift pencil and ink sketches. Of course I had to nosy and judging from the small sketches he was quickly drawing onto sheets of paper, it seemed to me at the time that he was another painter to produce those pretty genre paintings of a busy marketplace, you know the kind, mostly a couple of figures loitering or squatting around stalls laden with produce and whatnot. Later when I began to hear his name more and more often and asked Isabella about him, I put two and two together and realised that the bald chap I saw sketching was indeed Mr Gilman himself.
Ever since then, I’ve been trying to find out more about his works and I’m ever so curious to see if he ever gets to make a painting out of any of the sketches he drew up while he was at Kirkgate market or elsewhere in Leeds.
What colours can his eyes see in a place that is so often mocked for lacking all colour? Some say that even the stars don’t shine here, because everything’s so sooty and grey. Having seen a couple of works by Mr Gilman now, I’m certain that he will make Leeds market look like Leeds market even if it’s all emerald and yellow like Isabella’s stockings. It almost fills me with British pride: isn’t it more admirable to find colours where there are none, than travelling all the way to Tahiti like Gauguin or the South of France like the Dutch Van Gogh?
Gilman indeed finished a large painting of the Leeds Market in 1913. The colours are subtle, almost pale, reflecting perhaps and early winter morning – not exactly Tahiti, after all.
Gilman’s sketches provide an insight into an important aspect of Camden Town work: its small scale, as Stephen Hackney writes, “sketching on the scale that the eye sees, so that the captured image, at a comfortable arm’s length, can be exactly superimposed over the more distant model or scene. This is a well-known technique for maintaining accuracy of proportion and relationship. The drawing can then be made proportionally larger on a bigger canvas by squaring-up with a grid or grille. A fine grid of vertical and horizontal lines is drawn over the sketch with a pencil and ruler and then a scaled-up grid put on a canvas primed for painting, either by drawing or painting it directly on the ground of the canvas or by using string stretched across the front. The lines in each square of the sketch are then copied onto the appropriate square of the canvas, which keeps the proportions consistent with the sketch.” (Stephen Hackney, ‘The Evolution of Painting Technique among Camden Town Group Artists‘)
That Harold Gilman worked and sketched on the move is remembered in this anecdote by his friend Louis F. Fergusson: “On one occasion, for instance, when several people assembled at 47 Maple Street before sallying forth to dine at Roche’s or the Étoile, a charming lady arrived in a very delightful hat. This so worked upon Gilman’s colour-sense that he incontinently seized a blank canvas, picked up his palette, loaded a brush with a combination of pigments that matched the mauve hat-band to a marvel, flung a dollop of the mixture at the canvas, and worked it across in a beautiful smear with his palette-knife. I seemed to have read of this procedure as one of the less reputable idiosyncrasies of Courbet, and looked on astonished. This bold onslaught upon a, at that moment, somewhat reluctant sitter was followed by a roughing-in of hat and head, and somewhat delayed the start for dinner. The work was never finished.” (Louis F. Fergusson, ‘Harold Gilman’, in Wyndham Lewis and Louis F. Fergusson, Harold Gilman: An Appreciation, London: Chatto & Windus 1919, pp.19–32.)
The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery at the University of Leeds holds another witness to Gilman’s studious sketching around Leeds around this time: