Representations of class and gender in selected paintings of London interiors by artists belonging to the Camden Town Group, 1907 to 1914

Webb, Valerie (2003) Representations of class and gender in selected paintings of London interiors by artists belonging to the Camden Town Group, 1907 to 1914. (MPhil thesis), Kingston University, .


As indicated by the title of this thesis, the two main themes to be discussed are class and gender. The intersecting of class and gender is apparent in a large body of images by the core members of the Fitzroy Street Group and, later, the Camden Town Group. These images deal specifically with representations of women within domestic interiors and representations of men in public interiors. With regards to the representation of women, a large part of the thesis is concerned with the lives of young single women living and working in London. In this respect, the thesis reconstructs the lives of these women during the transitional period from the Edwardian Age to the 'modem' age, taking into account such tangible factors as employment, leisure, and accommodation, and non tangible factors such as loneliness and isolation. The thesis looks at how life for these women became more liberated as they were able to partake in urban city life and enter into employments other than domestic service, which gave them financial and social independence. However, as so many of the paintings depict lower middle-class and working¬class young women situated within domestic interiors, and usually alone, the question arises as to why with this increase in public freedom so many are depicted in this way. The thesis discusses, then, the anomaly appearing ih these paintings when historical fact rubs against artistic subjectivity; a subjectivity which seems to perpetuate the gendered public/private divide. The thesis also concentrates on the theme of prostitution and argues that Walter Sickert'g use of the European morphological stereotype of the prostitute's body, with a direct link to working-class women, has proved so compelling for researchers that paintings by Spencer Gore and Harold Gilman have been overlooked by the shadow cast by Sickert's artistic prominence. The chapter dealing with prostitution argues that a slippage occurs in the 'Madonna/whore' paradigm, into which Gore's and Gilman's paintings of unclothed women can be considered and placed. The intersecting of class and gender also arises in the chapter on masculinity, specifically within the public interior spaces of the eating house, café, music hall and cinema. It is in such interiors that the question of working-class collectivity arises, where a clear example can be found through a consideration of working-class popular entertainment in the form of the music hall and the cinema. However, as the thesis discusses, this class based collectivity came under threat by those seeking to infiltrate and colonise working-class popuJar entertainment. The chapter on masculinity also discusses the café and eating house as residual spaces/places for the unemployed working-class male, and for those men who were unfit for active service. The undermining of the working-class man's right to work, or for the man's right to serve his country in an hour of need, resulted in a loss of masculinity and disempowerment.

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