GORE, Spencer Frederick (1878-1914)
Plaque erected in 2017 by English Heritage at 31 Mornington Crescent, London NW1 7RE, London Borough of Camden
SPENCER FREDERICK GORE 1878-1914 Painter lived and worked here 1909-1912
The artist Spencer Gore was at the cutting edge of British art in the early 20th century. A close friend of Walter Sickert, he was a founding member of the Fitzroy Street Group, the Camden Town Group and the London Group. He is commemorated with a blue plaque at 31 Mornington Crescent, where he lived from about 1909 until 1912.
Gore attended the Slade School of Fine Art from 1897 until 1901, where he was introduced to English impressionism by his painting tutor Philip Wilson Steer. While there he made lasting friendships with Albert Rutherston and Harold Gilman, Augustus John and Wyndham Lewis. His most important friendship, however, was to be with Walter Sickert, whom he met while on a painting trip to France in 1904.
Both men lived in London from 1905 onwards, and Sickert became an influential artistic guide and champion for Gore. Gore’s painting style responded to the broken colour and handling of the French Impressionists. He would sketch and paint, sometimes in Sickert’s studio, or in the music halls and streets of London. His subjects reflected the mix of London’s social culture portraying the streets and homes of working men and women. In the hands of Gore, Sickert wrote, dreary and hopeless scenes were ‘transformed into loveliness’.
FROM FITZROY TO CAMDEN
In 1907 Gore helped Sickert set up the Fitzroy Street Group, an informal collection of artists who gathered on Saturday afternoons at 19 Fitzroy Street, Fitzrovia. The first members included two women, Ethel Sands and her partner Nan Hudson – plus Harold Gilman and Malcolm Drummond, with Robert Bevan and Charles Ginner joining them after 1908. Sickert defined the Group’s purpose as providing the opportunity for younger artists to show 'Little pictures for Little Patrons’ – affordable pictures at a scale that would fit homes rather than for the grander exhibition shows, and to accustom people to seeing modern and innovative works.
In 1911 Gore and Sickert set up another artists’ group: the men-only Camden Town Group. The 16 artists, who included Wyndham Lewis, Lucien Pissarro and Duncan Grant, had little stylistic bond between them, but shared the ambition to respond to modernist ideals and truthfully observe the social and cultural life of modern Britain.
In 1909 Gore moved to 31 Mornington Crescent in Camden Town, where he is now commemorated with a blue plaque. The blue plaque to Sickert is also located nearby at 6 Mornington Crescent, where he lived from 1905 until about 1908, shortly before Gore’s arrival.
The three years that Gore lived here saw him progress into an artist of ability and innovation. One of his four works shown in the first Camden Town Group exhibition was Mornington Crescent, a view painted from his window across the gardens to Hampstead Road. At least eight works in total were painted here: two showing the interior of the comfortable sitting room he shared with his landlord and six documenting either views from his window, or from within the residents’ private garden. Unfortunately the view Gore painted has been lost. The private gardens are now occupied by the Carreras Cigarette Factory, the Egyptian-style façade of which faces the Hampstead Road.
In 1926 the artist Walter Bayes wrote to TheTimes to suggest that a new row of shops about to be built in Mornington Crescent should be called ‘Spencer Gore’s Grove’. Bayes recalled Gore ‘standing at his easel in the most inclement weathers painting so many charming pictures there to the accompaniment of the hum of the trams’.
Gore moved out of number 31 in 1912 after his marriage to Mary Johanna Kerr (1889–1968), known as Mollie. The couple moved to Richmond the following year, and from there Gore worked to bring together new artists for the Camden Town Group’s successor, the London Group. Their first exhibition in 1914 was to be Gore’s swansong: he contracted influenza which turned to pneumonia, and died on 27 March, aged 35.