Harold Gilman (1876-1919)

Harold Gilman was a painter of interiors, portraits and landscapes and founder member of the Camden Town Group.

Born at Rode in Somerset, he was the son of John Gilman, curate of Rode. Gilman spent his early years in Kent after his father secured the living of Snargate with Snave in Romney Marsh. During a period of childhood convalescence, Gilman developed an interest in art but did not begin his artistic training until after his non-collegiate year at Brasenose College, Oxford. In 1896 he entered Hastings School of Art but in 1897 transferred to the Slade School of Fine Art in London, where he remained until 1901. His contemporaries at the Slade were Spencer Gore, Wyndham Lewis, Augustus John and William Orpen and his tutors Frederick Brown, Wilson Steer and Henry Tonks. In 1904 he left for Spain, where he stayed for a year studying the masters – Velazquez and Goya. Both were major early influences, as was Whistler.

Meeting Walter Sickert in 1907, Gilman became a founder member of both the Fitzroy Street Group and in 1911 the Camden Town Group. Gilman stood firmly for reform and advocated consistently the formation of a new society. Despite dying of Spanish ‘flu at the age of forty-three in 1919, his strong-minded and ardent personality meant that he had a lasting impact on the British art scene at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Harold Gilman (1876-1919), A Vase of Flowers on a Sideboard with a mirror behind, c. 1909


Oil on canvas laid down on board
9 x 10 ½ in (22 x 26 cm)

Bears framing instructions and the artist’s signature (?) on reverse

Collections: Captain and Mrs George Swinton and thence by descent to Major General Sir John Swinton KCVO, OBE, DL (1925 -2018) Kimmerghame, Berwickshire

We are grateful to Dr Wendy Baron, Robert Upstone, Julian Agnew, James Rawlin and the Artist’s grand-daughter Valerie Gilman for confirming the traditional attribution of this charming still life. Opinion is divided, however, as to whether the signature on the reverse is original.

The picture was owned by George Swinton and his wife, the celebrated amateur singer and society hostess, Elsie Swinton. Elsie was a close friend of Sickert’s who painted her on several occasions. She also sat for John Singer Sargent in a spectacular full length now in The Art Institute of Chicago. The picture then passed by descent to Major Sir John Swinton, father of the actress Tilda Swinton.

The picture dates to c 1909 and is closest to the Still Life of the same date in The Fitzwilliam Museum (repr. W Baron The Campden Town Group 1979,p.26).It appears to show the same sideboard and mirror and the same vase (the latter a particular favourite of the artist’s- re-appearing in interiors now in The Southampton Art Gallery and the picture last known at Bonhams in June 2011) .This is the period before Gilman’s association with Sickert and confirms that at heart he is a fluent Whistlerian tonal painter.

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