'Mrs Mounter', Harold Gilman, first exhibited 1916/17
Oil on canvas, 91.8 x 61.5cm
Accession Number 3135
'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 Art Gallery.
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.
An extended study of 'Mrs Mounter' is also available online as part of our Artwork of the Month series.