Robert Polhill Bevan
- Robert Polhill Bevan
- Houses in Sunlight
- oil on canvas
R.A. Bevan, 1951
Mrs Natalie Bevan, 1975
Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London
Acquired by the Mellon Bank, Pittsburgh, by 1986
Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert, London, where acquired by the present owner
Paris, Galerie Druet, Exposition d'un Groupe de Peintres Modernes, 27th June - 8th July 1921;
London, Royal Watercolour Society Galleries, New English Art Club, 69th Exhibition, 27th December 1923 - 25th January 1924, cat. no.61;
London, Goupil Gallery, Robert Bevan Memorial Exhibition, February 1926, cat. no.155 (as Houses in Sunlight, Hampstead);
Brighton, Brighton Public Art Galleries, Robert Bevan Memorial Exhibition, August 1926, cat. no.40 (as Houses in Sunlight, Hampstead);
Southampton, City Art Gallery, The Camden Town Group, 1951, cat. no.11 (as Houses in Sunlight, Hampstead, dated circa 1914-5);
London, Colnaghi & Co, Robert Bevan, 1961, cat. no.17 (dated 1914);
Colchester, The Minories, Robert Bevan Centenary Exhibition, 1965, cat. no.27, illustrated pl.VII;
London, Colnaghi & Co, Robert Bevan 1865-1925, Centenary Exhibition, 23rd March – 13th April 1965, cat. no.37, illustrated pl.VII;
Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, Robert Bevan Centenary Exhibition, April - May 1965, cat. no.37, illustrated pl.VII;
London, Hampstead Town Hall, Camden Town Group: Hampstead Festival 1965, 21st May - 4th June 1965, cat. no.6;
Colchester, The Minories, The R.A. Bevan Collection from Boxted House, 1975, cat. no.25;
London, Anthony d’Offay Gallery, English Paintings from the Bevan Collection, 16th April – 9th May 1975, cat. no.6, illustrated;
New Haven, Yale Center for British Art, The Camden Town Group, 1980, cat. no.11, illustrated.
R.A. Bevan, Robert Bevan 1865-1925: A Memoir by His Son, Studio Vista Limited, London, 1965, illustrated pl.51;
Apollo, April 1975, no.101, p.326;
Architectural Review, July 1975, no.158, p.57;
Frances Stenlake, Robert Bevan: from Gauguin to Camden Town, Unicorn Press, London, 2008, p.91, 142, 148.
‘Mr Bevan’s colour is highly personal and may offend some by its honesty…This gives an extraordinary brilliance to his colour but tends to make it “unreal” in the sight of those, less gifted with colour perception, who see London in drabs and greys and biscuit tints.’ (Franks Rutter, Sunday Times, April 1915, reproduced in Frances Stenlake, Robert Bevan: from Gauguin to Camden Town, Unicorn Press, London, 2008, p. 122).
This scene of Italianate stucco terraced houses, bathed in light and depicted using cool Impressionist tones, exudes tranquillity and calm and at first glance may not seem a revolutionary work of art. But radical it is, both in its use of colour as the main driver of the narrative and through its subject: the drab and the everyday, the view from the window of the Artist’s North London home. This is a painting of the modern world, made as the pre-existing order was being torn apart by the unprecedented horror of the First World War.
When Houses in Sunlight was painted in 1915, the wider British art scene - save for the small (mainly London-based) avant garde - was still reeling from the impact of Roger Fry’s two controversial exhibitions of French Post-Impressionism, held in London in 1910 and 1912, considered by many as an outrage against good taste. Bevan, on the other hand, had already seen what the great French painters had to offer. He studied at the Académie Julian in Paris in 1889, and in the following year visited Brittany and witnessed the recent developments of the French Pont-Aven School, where he was one of the only British artists to meet and work with Paul Gauguin. The time spent in France had a profound impact on his work, and his revolutionary paintings of Poland, depicted in high-voltage and ‘un-real’ shades, were in fact first exhibited in Britain five years before Fry’s first Post-Impressionism exhibition. They were unsurprisingly met with astonishment by critics who were particularly wary of what they felt was Bevan’s shocking use of fierce and dazzling colour.
In contrast to the critical establishment’s reaction, Bevan’s progressive techniques were welcomed by a group of London artists who were seeking a new and modern means of visual representation. He was invited to become a part of Walter Sickert’s Fitzroy Street circle, and he later helped to form the short lived Camden Town group. It was perhaps through Sickert’s influence that Bevan turned his attention to scenes of everyday life taking place around 14 Adamson Road, the home the family had occupied since 1900, which included a top floor studio in which he could work. The home was to become an important social and artistic London hub, as Bevan’s son recounted:
‘Both immediately before 1914 and later through the war, the Bevan house in Hampstead was a rallying point not only for his close associates but also for a number of other young artists. Tea-time on Sunday afternoons, often followed by a simple cold supper, usually saw quite a gathering which often included T.E. Hulme, Ashley Dukes, and the Gaudier-Brzeskas, as well as Sickert, Walter Bayes, Lucian Pissarro, Manson and Wyndham Lewis.’ (R. A. Bevan, intro., Camden Town Group 50th Anniversary Exhibition, The Minories, Colchester, 1961, reproduced in Frances Stenlake, Robert Bevan: From Gauguin to Camden Town, Unicorn Press, London, p.88).
Bevan produced several scenes which capture the rapidly changing urban landscape, scenes of London at a pivotal moment of transition from the old world to the new, many of which were produced during the war and are now in public collections, such as Queen’s Road, St John’s Wood (1918, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford) and A Street Scene in Belsize Park (1917, Museum of London). Bevan would frequently take his sketchbook to observe the various neighbourhoods of North London, and, according to his son, he was apparently arrested during one such excursion. It is perhaps for this reason that he chose to remain indoors and avoid further conflict by producing two paintings which take the view from the front window as their subject. Houses in Sunlight depicts a scene of London emerging from the Edwardian era, with gas lamps and figures wrapped up in thick shawls and wearing structured hats and From the Artist’s Window (1916, The Museum and Art Gallery, Leicester), which presents a slightly wider perspective of the street, also includes horse drawn carriages and carts. There is also a preparatory sketch for the present work entitled Adamson Road (circa 1915, Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford), which includes all of the compositional detail found in the final painting, such as the woman descending her front steps with her dog, and another figure pushing a pram, but has none of the luminous, startling colour which turns the final oil into such a modern jewel.