Formed in 1911 by Walter Sickert, the members of this short-lived group were influenced by Post-Impressionism. Their main concern was depicting everyday realist scenes often with vibrant colours. It was named after the area of London where Sickert lived and worked.
The History of the Group
The Camden Town Group initially began as a weekly gathering of artists known as the Fitzroy Street Group, including Spencer Gore, Harold Gilman, Charles Ginner and Robert Bevan who gathered at the studio of Walter Sickert in the Camden Town area of North London in 1907. Writer Louis Ferguson described a typical afternoon:
'There was an appetising smell of tea and pigment as you ascended to a glorious afternoon of pictures and talk. Easels and chairs faced the fireplace with a serried stack of canvases against the wall. Six works or more of an individual painter were extricated in turn, each Fitzroyalist displaying his quota or having it displayed for him by the untiring Gore'.
They later took their name from the wider area of North London where most of the sixteen members lived. The movement lasted for three short years and they held only three exhibitions as a group, the first of which took place in 1911 at the renowned Carfax Gallery in London. Dominated by men, women were excluded from taking part.
Key Ideas and Subjects
Together the Camden Town Group made the decision to paint the everyday lives of ordinary people rather than the wealthy London elite. As a result, their paintings capture the changing realities of urban life in Edwardian Britain, with people in pubs, casinos, eating houses, theatres, music halls and boarding houses. Domestic and landscape subjects were also popular, seen in Gore’s Mrs Spencer Frederick Gore in the Garden of Rowlandson House, 1911. However, they were less interested in social judgement or commentary, more concerned with creating respectful and honest observations of urban life, often with psychological content. The paintings they made were deliberately small scale and inexpensive to avoid spectacle and pretension.
The styles explored by the Camden Town Group were influenced by Post-Impressionism, particularly the heightened colours, free brushstrokes and flat planes of colour in paintings by Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin. Alongside the Bloomsbury Group, they were instructive in introducing French modernity to the United Kingdom.
The Camden Town Group was a short-lived movement that dissolved in 1913, but the expressive, figurative painting they promoted led the way for the much larger and long lasting London Group, which is still going today. In the interwar period, their styles were less fashionable and overshadowed by the larger, more prolific Bloomsbury Group and the radical avant-garde abstractions of the Vorticists, led by Wyndham Lewis. Interest in the group was revived in the 1960s and 1970s, with the paintings acknowledged historically for their honest and atmospheric records of life in London before First World War.