InSight No. XCIII

Spencer Gore | Country Landscape, 1909-10 c.

Spencer Gore was ‘a perfect modern’, beloved of his contemporaries and the author of bright, cleanly executed visions of the English landscape.

Spencer Gore

Country Landscapecirca 1909-10


 

The Blackdown Hills were once in the county of Somerset. They historically abutted the county’s southern border with Devon until the Local Government Act of 1958 made certain boundary changes, splitting the Hills between the two counties. When Spencer Gore (1878–1914) visited Harold Bertram Harrison’s farm near Clayhidon in 1909, the Hills were altogether part of Somerset. Harrison had only just purchased his property, Applehayes, and Gore was his first visitor, soon to be followed by many other painters including Gore’s friends Robert Bevan and Charles Ginner. It was probably while staying at Applehayes that Gore painted Country Landscape.

 

Though the painting was at one time known by the title ‘Sussex Landscape’, Country Landscape rather appears to depict the Blackdown Hills. The pattern of pasture, trees and hedgerows makes a chequerboard of the landscape, most especially when viewed from the elevated vantage point of the hills. Gore’s picture registers this gentle formality. Country Landscape is further situated by a comparison with Gore’s other Applehayes paintings of 1909 and 1910, such as those owned by the Government Art Collection and the University of Hull Art Collection. All three assume a lofty outlook, with narrow slivers of pasture in the foreground, a rill of trees blocking the immediate middle distance, and beyond it, the atmospheric haze of more fields stretching away to the horizon.

Gore’s son Frederick was himself a painter. Writing in 1974, he gave a painter’s description of the Impressionist approach which his father adopted from around 1905.

Lucien Pissarro […] provided him with the theories of the great Camille and also of Seurat, with whom Camille had been very close at the time when Lucien began to paint [in the 1880s]. It was Camille Pissarro’s method which Gore adopted, building up his composition from the white ground by dry touches of tube colour without added medium and using no black.

In small-scale landscape paintings from around 1909 and 1910, Gore started using effects redolent of Seurat’s pointillism. The paint surface of Country Landscape is finely grained, with a dense accumulation of short touches. The same is true of a work like The Cricket Match (1909, The Hepworth Wakefield), which uses broken brushwork and exaggerated colour contrasts. These works might well be taken as an interesting reply to some of Seurat’s oil studies of the 1880s.

 

Gore was admired by both his elders and his contemporaries. He was first introduced to Walter Sickert by Albert Rutherston on a trip to Dieppe in 1904. They became close friends and associates from 1906 after Sickert had re-established himself in London. After Gore’s premature death in 1914, Sickert wrote a famous and moving lament in which he described his young friend as ‘a perfect modern’ (see InSight LXII).

 

Less well known is an article by Wyndham Lewis which appeared in the first issue of Blast, also praising Gore.

His habit of telling you of things he had his eye on and intended painting three years hence, and all his system of work was with reference to minute and persistent labour, implying a good spell of life, which almost retarded accomplishment.

Lewis and Gore had been on an uneventful trip to Madrid together in winter 1902 and they later worked together on murals for the Cave of the Golden Calf night club. While acknowledging the importance of Sickert in Gore’s development, Lewis claimed that ‘[s]ome of his work towards the end belonged rather to this present movement [Vorticism] than to any other.’ He presumably had in mind Gore’s vividly schematic Letchworth skyscapes, rather than his final paintings of Richmond Park which were executed in a vein of wintry naturalism.

Taken together, the output from Gore’s short career demonstrates remarkable variety: a personal adaptation of Pissarro and Seurat, a Vorticist-inflected post-impressionism, the final swansong of ethereal treescapes, and more besides. Like other artists of vision who died young, whether Rupert Brooke or Amy Winehouse, it is difficult to separate Gore from the thought of what might have been achieved had he lived. In bucolic paintings such as Country Landscape, however, a little of his zest and enthusiasm can be gleaned – a touch of ‘his gentleness and fineness’, as Lewis put it.

 

Images:

 

1. Spencer Gore, Country Landscapecirca 1909-10, oil on canvas, 25.8 x 35.8 cm | For Sale

2. The Blackdown Hills

3. Spencer Gore, Somerset Landscapecirca 1909-10, Government Art Collection

4. Georges Seurat, The Seine seen from La Grande Jatte, 1888, National Gallery, London

5. A dog-eared copy of Blast No. 1 (1914), Wyndham Lewis's Vorticist magazine

6. Spencer Gore, The Beanfield, Letchworth, 1912, Tate Collection

7. Spencer Gore, Country Landscape

 

December 9, 2021
25 
of 231