Review: From Sickert to Gertler – Modern British Art from Boxted House

Exhibition: From Sickert to Gertler – Modern British Art from Boxted House, Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, until September 12 2010

Long before Brit Art, there was British Art. In the early 20th century this was typified by the painterly, figurative work of a group centred around Camden in London.

Compared with contemporaries in Paris, the Camden Town Group were retrospective technicians. The art can seem as modest and matter-of-fact as that name.

The System, painted in 1924-5 by Walter Sickert, is a case in point. As a portrait of a luckless character type with finely balanced colours, it is impressive. But there are no flights of abstraction. You wouldn’t guess the first Surrealist manifesto had just been published.

Robert Bevan was another member of the Group and its his work which dominates this show. After experiments with fauvism and pointillism, his style settles into an angular yet sedate form of post-impressionism, with the emphasis on landscapes.

In the years before and after the First World War, Bevan and his wife, Stanislawa de Karlowska, were central figures in the London art scene. It was their son, Bobby, together with his wife Natalie, who collected most of the works on display here.

Their house was a showcase for paintings by Sickert, Bevan and Karlowska, along with Mark Gertler, Harold Gilman, Charles Ginner, Cedric Morris and John Nash. Most of these talents were also friends in one way or another.

The web of relationships between the artworks and artists in this show is dense. To complicate matters further, Bobby built up an eclectic range of works on paper, in which Goya, Cezanne and Toulouse-Lautrec sit more or less side by side. Natalie, meanwhile, had an exhibition of her own ceramics at the Anthony d’Offay gallery.

But it is their family home of Boxted House in Essex which draws together all these guests, possessions and passions. The artwork here is displayed room by room, so the results are no less disordered than a perusal of anyone else’s place of residence.

In his lifetime, Bevan only sold one painting to a public gallery. Brighton Art Gallery bought The Cab Yard, Night in 1913. It was a favourite subject, but horse drawn cabs would soon be replaced by cars. In Italy, this would spawn Futurism. Here we did not exactly embrace modernity.

Written for Culture24.

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