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Spencer Frederick Gore

Despite having a tragically short lifespan (Gore died at the age of just 35 of pneumonia brought on by a long spell of painting in Richmond Park), Spencer Gore had a huge impact on the art world in the early 20th century. He was a founding member of the Fitzroy Street Group, the Camden Town Group and the London Group, all of which are still influential today.

Born in Epsom, Gore’s childhood was spent in Holywell, Kent. He attended Harrow School from 1892 to 1896 where he discovered his love of art, winning the first Yates Thompson Prize for drawing. His father was the winner of the first Lawn Tennis Championship at Wimbledon in 1877, and he inherited his father’s sporting abilities, excelling in cricket while at school.

Gore trained at the Slade School of Fine Art (1896-1899) where his contemporaries included Harold Gilman, Augustus John, and Wyndham Lewis. In 1904, whilst visiting Dieppe, he was introduced to Walter Sickert, and the two would go on to form a lifelong friendship which led to Gore joining Sickert’s Fitzroy Street Group and, in 1911, to the co-founding of the Camden Town Group.

Gore established himself as a landscape painter but went on to develop in areas such as portraiture and cityscapes. He was a quick assimilator, and knowledgeable too. His time in France enabled visits to exhibitions by Gauguin and Cézanne, and his work shows similarities. He adopted the thick paint, the bright colours, but also the emphasis on geometric and sometimes distorted forms, and the use of unnatural and sometimes unexpected colour (see, for instance, The Icknield Way, 1912).

He organised the Exhibition of the Work of English Post-Impressionists, Cubists and Others in Brighton, at the Brighton Public Art Galleries, in 1913. He was a man often noted for his diplomacy and social inclusivity. As Sickert wrote: ‘He took incessant risks, but he had social and artistic tact to a rare degree’. In bringing together artists so disparate in content and style he arranged his Brighton exhibition so that the first two rooms were occupied by the Camden Town and Fitzroy Street Groups, and the third by the Cubists: Lewis, Epstein, Bomberg and Wadsworth (see Edward Wadsworth biography). His intention had even been to include the Bloomsbury Group, but Fry had declined the invitation.

Gore held one solo exhibition during his lifetime: Paintings by Spencer F. Gore, at the Chenil Gallery, London, 1911, and a joint exhibition, in 1913, with Harold Gilman, fellow Camden Town Group artist, at the Carfax Gallery, London.

In dying so young Gore left a wife – he was married to Mary Johanna Kerr for only two years – and two young children. His legacy was assured, however, and he is now recognized as the most important of the Camden Town Group.

After his death his friend Sickert wrote:

It is my privilege to have observed at close quarters the development of Spencer Frederick Gore, from what I may perhaps call the coming of age of his talent in 1906, to its close in 1914 … In his painting was made manifest colour, and not merely colours … He attained to exquisiteness in touch. Expression descended like snowflakes on his canvases, varied, adequate, and economical. He painted with the reticence and the measure of the great gentleman that he was.

Leicester Museum and Art Gallery; Museum of London; University of Hull Art Collection; Leeds Art Gallery.

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