Harold Gilman 1876-1919


Mrs Sylvia Gilman, the Artist's wife

Thence by family descent to the previous owner

Harold Gilman was born in Somerset in 1876, the second of seven children of a curate. He boarded at Tonbridge School, Kent and then went to Oxford University for just a year in 1894 before leaving for Odessa. In 1896 he began his studies at the Hastings School of Art in Sussex, and then the Slade School of Fine Art between 1897 and 1901, where his contemporaries included Spencer Gore, Wyndham Lewis, Augustus John, and the famous tutor Henry Tonks. Upon leaving the Slade, Gilman spent a year in Spain where he was greatly influenced by Velázquez and Goya, and met his wife with whom he returned to live in Notting Hill, London. In 1907 Gilman met Walter Sickert, and together they founded the Fitzroy Street Group, in 1908 he showed at the Salon des Indepéndants in Paris, and then at the Royal Albert Hall in the same year as part of the Allied Artists' Association, which he helped to form.

1910 marked a watershed in Gilman’s career, initiated by Roger Fry’s ‘Manet and the Post-Impressionists’ exhibition at the Grafton Galleries and cemented with a trip alongside Charles Ginner to Paris, seeing Post-Impressionist work in the collections of Pellerin and Durand-Ruel, and the Vollard and Sagot galleries. Gilman, alongside Sickert, Spencer Gore and Charles Ginner, formed the Camden Town Group, with which he exhibited three times, before splintering off with Ginner to establish the Cumberland Market Group, which had a single exhibition at Goupil Gallery in 1915, as well as a short lived art school. Gilman worked as an artist during World War I, painting in Canada, but died in the influenza epidemic in 1919 that spread through Europe at the end of the war. Exhibitions of his work were organised by the Arts Council in 1954 and 1981.

Throughout his career, Gilman painted sensitive scenes of women, often family and friends, in domestic interiors. Subtle and quiet, Gilman depicts interiority -– the private life both physical and psychical of the women of the Edwardian middle-classes. Shunning the seedy demi-monde found in Sickert’s work and the captivating glamour of high society, Gilman instead immersed himself in the humdrum domesticity of the middle class. The intimiste paintings of French Post-Impressionists Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard were undoubtedly a major influence, though Gilman’s interest in domestic interiors pre-dated his exposure to both artists.

‘Portrait of Irene Battiscombe the Artist’s Sister (The Striped Blouse)' was painted by Gilman around 1915, in the full maturity of his Post-Impressionist phase. Irene Battiscombe, neé Gilman, was a frequent model for her brother: she is the reclining woman in ‘Lady on a Sofa’, 1910; Tate. With Irene seated in profile, ‘Portrait of Irene Battiscombe’ immediately echoes Whilster’s ‘Whistler’s Mother’, 1871, a work deemed iconic almost instanteously. Whistler was very much the forefather of the Camden Town Group: he was Sickert's mentor and Gilman much admired Whistler in the early stages of his career. The allusion to Whistler's earlier painting would thus seem direct and deliberate. Van Gogh’s portraits, specifically his 1890 ‘Portrait of Adeline Ravoux’, a young girl seen in profile, would also seem an acknowledged antecedent, particularly in Van Gogh's technique and predominance of blue – even in the inclusion of prominent blue ribbons.

Gilman was termed by his contemporaries the ‘great painter of teapots’, transforming the mundane fabric of everyday life into the material of an effervescent modernism [Modern Painters: The Camden Town Group (ed. R. Upstone, ex. cat. Tate Publishing, 2008), p. 109]. Though not Gilman's permanent lodgings he acquired in 1914 at 47 Maple Street, near Tottenham Court Road, the domestic interior of 'Portrait of Irene Battiscombe' is also the site for many other works including ‘Interior with Nude’, c. 1911-12, that also show the idiosyncratic patterned yellow wallpaper. ‘Portrait of Irene Battiscombe’ is an extraordinarily vibrant picture, pulsating with pattern and colour. By the mid-1910s, Gilman was particularly inspired by the handling of paint by Van Gogh and thus he covers the surface of ‘Portrait of Irene Battiscombe’ with a veritable mosaic of thick, near-impasto, touches of jewel-like tones that coalesce into unity in the eye of the viewer. The surface of the painting becomes a pattern of shimmering, luscious tones – emerald green of the fireplace, golden-yellow of the wallpaper, and cornflower blue shirt with royal blue stripes. The cornflower blue of the shirt is distributed throughout the painting in patches of local colour, most prominently in the sitter’s grey hair with touches on her face and her eyes. Though atmospherically subdued, intimate, even meditative, the technical realisation of this portrait is defiantly modern. Colour is heightened and handling of paint is virtuosic –Gilman imbues the banalities of the domestic realm in ‘Portrait of Irene Battiscombe’ with iridescence and vibrancy.