A London Street Scene in Snow is the perfect example of the Camden Town Group's unique take on Parisian Fauvism. Like their French counterparts, artists such as Gilman, Bevan and Gore used colour as a disruptive, shocking force. Following a 1910 trip to Paris with Charles Ginner, Gilman’s palette underwent a radical change, employing an exciting breadth and exuberance, such as in his 1912 work The Reapers, Sweden, (Johannesburg Art Gallery, Johannesburg). His exposure to the preeminent Post-Impressionists left a huge mark on him and it was Van Gogh who became a key influence on him personally and artistically: the strange and dislocating atmosphere of the present work being a prime example. Despite taking on board these avant-garde influences Gilman retained a strikingly English conservatism and even through the more expressive period of production between 1910 and 1914 his works display a gentle domesticity and sense of quiet gravity.
Artistically the least at home out of the Camden Town painters with the subject matter of the city this remarkably painterly work is almost completely disassociated from the urban sprawl and bustle. By fragmenting the image into blocks of dreamlike antagonistic colour, and through the removal of almost all staffage, Gilman imposes an isolating and tense dialectic entirely in keeping with the atmosphere of the period. Always happiest with the static image, his cityscapes generally and in this work also avoid the hard surfaces and continual movement of the urban world and in canvases such as Clarence Gardens (circa 1912, Ferens Art Gallery, Hull) he preoccupied himself with the landscape painter’s problems.
Although seemingly a straightforward composition, its simplicity masks its intricacy. The subtle separation of the picture into two vertical components through the inclusion of the lamppost in the centre of the work also provides an important repoussoir, disturbing the depth of the painting. Furthermore it breaks the large band of snow in the street into two separate areas allowing it to not overpower the band of grey in the sky. Gilman had great belief in the power of colour, and its vivid directness is visible in action here. By using such incongruous colours to describe the scene Gilman allows the tones to thrive and become the subject of interest in themselves. The power of the paint surface and its melancholic implementation here takes this painting to beyond a simply descriptive cityscape.
After 1914 Gilman had begun to use firm outlines and flatter planes of colour as can be neatly seen in the present work. His colour became more sombre and the deep greens, murky blues and dark purple replaced the brighter colours of 1912-13. From 1916 until his death in 1919 from Spanish flu he searched for a personal and distinctive form of Post-Impressionism: directly presented, elaborate compositions with a deep stillness and dignity. We can read a particular sense of loneliness and dislocation into Gilman's resonant poetic meditations on the urban experience and transformation of everyday scenes of city life.
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