Your place to explore new perspectives on British art from 1900 to now. Through interviews, films, image galleries and essays, we uncover the creative lives of the people behind the art on our walls.
Harold Gilman: The English Post-Impressionist
[ Artist in Focus, Images )
In 1910 an exhibition curated by Roger Fry rocked the British art world by introducing the public to the art of the post-impressionists. ‘Manet and the Post-Impressionists’ was a critical disaster at the time but it is now considered to be one of the most important moments in the history of modern art.
The work of post-impressionists such as Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and Paul Cézanne are so familiar to us today that it is to difficult to imagine how radical they were to the British public in 1910. For most of Western art history, artists were concerned with creating faithful reproductions of the world. Post-impressionism turned this on its head by favouring the subjective vision of the artist. Their paintings were a window into their own souls – not the world outside.
For artists such as Harold Gilman (the subject of our headline spring exhibition) the work of the post-impressionists was a revelation. As a member of the Fitzroy Street Group and Camden Town Group, Gilman was interested in producing a different view of early 20th century urban life.
Inspired by van Gogh in particular, his paintings of everyday domestic life in London began to be infused with the bright colours and thickly applied paint favoured by the Dutch master.
Below we take a look at some of the paintings featured in our 2019 Gilman exhibition, which reveal the impact of van Gogh’s paintings on his work.
Canal Bridge, Flekkefjord (c.1913)
Gilman painted this view following a trip to Norway with the artist William Ratcliffe in 1912. The structure of the bridge and palette of blue and orange recalls van Gogh’s The Langlois Bridge at Arles (1888) (right).
If you went into [Gilman’s] room, you would find Van Gogh’s Letters on his table: you would see post cards of Van Gogh’s paintings beside the favourites of his own hand. When he felt very pleased with a painting he had done latterly, he would hang it up in the neighbourhood of a photograph of a painting by Van Gogh.
An Eating House (1913-14)
This unfinished painting by Harold Gilman was likely inspired by van Gogh’s Interior of a Restaurant in Arles (1888). It is possible that Gilman would have seen the original as it was then held in a private collection in London.
On one side of the room was a reproduction of Toulouse Lautrec’s picture ‘A la Mie’ and on the other wall a print of the famous Van Gogh self portrait with pipe in mouth and bandaged ear. Before he began to paint, Gilman would wave his brush in the air and bow towards the portrait, crying, ‘A toi, Van Gogh!’
Marjorie Lilly on Gilman’s art school at 15-16 Little Pulteney Street (1916-17).
Tea in the Bedsitter (1916)
One of Gilman’s most famous works, Tea in the Bedsitter contains two elements that appear to be in homage to van Gogh. The intriguing empty chair at the table greatly resembles the subject of one of van Gogh’s most famous paintings. Meanwhile, the Japanese print set on the wall behind the bed may also reference the prints that were so influential to the post-impressionists and van Gogh in particular.