In the art world the nature of the beast means that over the course of time certain styles, movements and breakthroughs weave in and out of fashion and thus it was with some anticipation that yesterday I had accepted an invitation to join two fellow Rusters on a jaunt to view the Harold Gilman: Beyond Camden Town exhibition at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester in West Sussex.
Hitherto I had only come across Gilman – a sometime disciple of Walter Sickert and then member of the Camden Town Group – during my now-distant university studies – as a relatively minor figure in the Slade School of Fine Art grouping around the dawn of the 20th Century including Augustus John, Spencer Gore and Percy Wyndham Lewis that blossomed under inspirational tutor Henry Tonks.
To be honest – and this, of course, was a personal choice – at that time his combination of understated formality and concentration on domestic scenes and then a later developing fascination with post-impressionistic colours had left me somewhat underwhelmed in comparison to the subtle but starker and flamboyant canvasses of Nash, Wyndham Lewis and Nevinson that in modern eyes now typify the essence of the British artistic community’s response to the horrors of the First World War, much of which Gilman had spent in Canada before succumbing in the Spanish ‘flu epidemic of 1918-20.
However, nothing ventured – nothing gained. Ivan Conway’s proposed group outing to the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, a pleasant cathedral city that I had only visited twice before, was a welcome opportunity for me to meet Rust colleagues and reassess some of Gilman’s work, of which mine host was a self-admitted voracious collector.
Having arrived by train somewhat ahead of the main party, I had walked into the centre of Chichester – now a pedestrian-only typically West Sussex urban shopping arena and much-changed from how I remembered it – in windy conditions but bright sunshine.
Sadly, our later handsome, relaxed and very enjoyable lunch at a nearby hostelry turned out to be the main – indeed only – highlight of our expedition.
As the 11.29am train from Brighton pulled into the station, as arranged, I was duly waiting on the concourse outside to greet my intended companions in the enterprise (Messrs Conway and Ingolby).
To my consternation, as I rose from my bench upon seeing my colleagues approach the station ticket barriers through the automatic external glass doors, I noticed first that Ivan Conway – the second of the pair to exit – was having a degree of trouble and holding up the passengers now queuing behind him as he struggled to negotiate the barrier machine.
A short time later a member of the railway staff arrived to help. However, after a short discussion there came the unmistakable sound of raised voices and subsequently I witnessed a scuffle – I believe that those of a sporting bent (which I am not) commonly refer to this type of thing as “handbags” – followed by the peal of some sort of alarm which preceded the arrival of railway reinforcements.
Thankfully, the incident was soon brought to a satisfactory conclusion – I choose here to ignore the brief period during which Ivan was held back as he shouted “I’ll have you, you fat [expletive deleted], I’m a personal friend of the honorary secretary of Brighton Rotary club!” over the straining shoulder of Gerald who was holding him back.
Happily, composures restored and our greetings made, the atmosphere cooled somewhat and we were soon able to set off on foot towards Pallant House, only to discover that that it was closed on Mondays. Our expedition thus aborted, we set off for what became a highly-convivial lunch.