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'Mrs. Mounter' 1916/7, by Harold Gilman (1876 - 1919)


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About the artwork

'Mrs. Mounter' is one of a series of images of Gilman's landlady in Maple Street that he painted between 1914 and 1917. This painting was probably painted around 1916/17. A smaller slightly earlier oil version without the chair is in the Tate, and pen and ink studies are in the Ashmolean Museum and the Walker. There is also another oil painting of Mrs Mounter in the Leeds City Art Gallery. During his career Gilman came increasingly to paint and draw the surrounding subjects that were important and dear to him. Mrs Mounter is not glamorised; he wanted to recreate specific real characters on canvas. This approach derived from his admiration not only of Van Gogh's directness in portraiture but also that of Cézanne and Gauguin. Therefore the same motifs of Mrs Mounter, the patterned wallpaper and crockery feature repeatedly in his later work.

Gilman has combined the structural elements of draughtsmanship that he learnt as a young man at the Slade School of Art, with a more restrained handling of the colour and impasto that he had been experimenting with from 1913, resulting in his distinctive mosaic-like style. The paint carefully applied in flat planes and definite vertical of the doorway counteract the strong colouring resulting in this balanced composition. The influence of Matisse is evident in the outlining of Mrs Mounter, thus containing the colour as in a stained glass window. 'Mrs Mounter' has a sense of monumentality and tranquillity akin to Johannes Vermeer's paintings of women in simple interiors that also have a strong geometric element, such as 'Young Woman with a Water Pitcher' c.1660-7. 'Mrs Mounter' is highly finished and very worked up yet it remains an intimate portrait.

Gilman developed a very individual style that had gone largely unnoticed when he died suddenly during the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1919. He sold very few works during his lifetime and it was not until the 1955 Arts Council exhibition of his work that he began to receive recognition for his short-lived but significant contribution to British modernism.

'Mrs Mounter' was purchased in 1943 from Reid and Lefevre; it was previously owned by Gilman's second wife Mrs Sylvia Gilman. It was exhibited at the Liverpool Autumn Exhibition in 1933.

Harold Gilman was born in Somerset to the Reverend John Gilman, a Rector of Snargate with Snave in Kent. After studying at Oxford for a year in 1894 he decided to become an artist. In 1897 he went to study at the Slade School of Art alongside Frederick Spencer Gore (who became his lifelong friend) under the instruction of Tonks, Wood, and Steer. The strong foundation in draughtsmanship encouraged at the Slade is evident throughout Gilman's artistic career.

Gore introduced Gilman to W.R. Sickert and his circle at Fitzroy Street in 1907 and it was here that the colour of Lucien Pissarro began to filter through into Gilman's painting. In 1910 Gilman travelled with Charles Ginner - another member of the Fitzroy Street Group - to Paris where he became familiar with the recent advances in French art made by Signac, Gauguin, Matisse and Van Gogh. In particular, he began to admire the work of the Post-Impressionist Cézanne. However it was not until Roger Fry's infamous 1910 'Manet and the Post-Impressionists' exhibition and later 1912 'Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition' held at the Grafton Galleries in London that Gilman really began to admire the art of Van Gogh, who became his idol. Wyndam Lewis said of Gilman: “he was proud to be a man who could sometimes hang his pictures in the neighbourhood of a picture postcard of …Van Gogh”.

After grievances with their main exhibiting society, the New English Art Club, the informal group of Fitzroy Street artists formed themselves into the more progressive Camden Town Group. Gilman was a founding member of the group when it began in 1911. His paintings took on Sickert's motifs of working-class cluttered interiors, informal portraits, nudes, shop fronts and eating-places. He began to combine this subject matter with a brighter palette and thickly-applied paint inspired by Van Gogh. However, it was as president of the London Group, formed in 1914 when the Camden Town Group was fragmenting, that Gilman's confident and argumentative character really came to the fore. This was apparent both in his presiding over of the group, and through his more adventurous use of vivid colour. As he grew apart from Sickert, his style became more open to the influence of Ginner and his decorative use of thick flat paint and patterning inspired by Post-Impressionist and Fauve styles rather than that of Sickert, whose work retained a duller, more dauby Impressionist palette. Gilman rejected the Impressionist concept of painting being like a sketch in favour of permanence which he achieved using a firm base and strong framing element with thick layers of paint working slowly from pen and ink sketches, not from life.

View Vermeer's Young Woman with water Pitcher [opens new window], held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.