The Carfax Gallery was founded in 1899 by William Rothenstein and John Fothergill. Robert Ross took over the management of the gallery in 1901, with the help of More Adey and Arthur Clifton. Ross left the gallery in 1908, and Clifton assumed control. The gallery exhibited both Old Masters and contemporary art, but is best known for exhibiting work by the members of the New English Art Club and, later, the Camden Town Group.
The Carfax was founded in 1898 by John Fothergill (1876-1957) and William Rothenstein (1872-1945). Fothergill had spent a term at St. John’s College Oxford and studied architecture for a short while before becoming an assistant to the writer and collector Edward Warren. Rothenstein had studied at the Slade School of Art and the Academié Julian in Paris and was by 1898 an established figure on the London art scene, exhibiting frequently with the New English Art Club and the newly formed International Society. The idea for the Carfax grew out of two previous ventures: The Vale Press, a shop created by the artists Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon and funded by Rothenstein’s friend Llewellyn Hacon; and the Dutch Gallery, run by the dealer Elbert van Wisselingh, where Rothenstein exhibited in 1894. The name ‘Carfax’ would seem to be an allusion to Oxford, a city with which Fothergill and Rothenstein both had strong connections (‘Carfax’ being the name of a tower that stands in central Oxford; all that remains of a church demolished in 1896). Although Fothergill put up most of the necessary funds, his poor health ensured that Rothenstein was the leading partner during the early days of the gallery. Extra assistance was supplied by Robert Sickert (brother of the artist Walter Sickert) and the former solicitor Arthur Clifton.
From 1898-1905 the firm occupied tightly-spaced rooms at 17 Ryder Street, in the fashionable St. James’ district of central London (the exact date on which they took these rooms has yet to be discovered, though correspondence suggests late 1898; the gallery was not listed in The Year’s Art until 1902). As Barbara Pezzini has noted, these rooms also contained domestic furniture, in imitation of the middle or upper-class houses that potential clients already inhabited. The type of work exhibited at Carfax – mostly drawings, watercolours and small paintings – tended to suit these surroundings. Early press references to the Carfax highlight its smallness, often seen as a ‘pleasant’ feature.
Rothenstein would later recall that the gallery was founded to exhibit ‘work of a certain character’, though the exact nature of this character is difficult to determine [Rothenstein, Men and Memories, Vol I, p.343]. Like the New English Art Club – many of whose members exhibited at the Carfax – it clearly had Francophile tendencies, and secured an early coup in an exhibition of drawings by the French sculptor Augusté Rodin (January 1900). Other early successes included the debut exhibition of Augustus John in early 1901, and three consecutive exhibitions of work by the Anglo-Australian artist Charles Conder (1899, 1900, 1901 and 1902). Contrary to the usual practice of London dealers, who tended to pay for work sold minus commission, Conder was given a contract in which Carfax bought his work upfront in bulk (as was the habit of Parisian dealers). When this arrangement began to backfire on the artist (i.e. when his work was in greatest demand, c.1900) he reacted strongly, claiming that Rothenstein had forced the contract upon him. This led, eventually, to Rothenstein’s resignation from the gallery management on the grounds that it had put him in a difficult position with fellow artists. Fothergill followed suit, leaving the gallery in the hands of the critic Robert Ross. Ross took full control in 1901, helped out by his companion More Adey, and Arthur Clifton (the hapless Robert Sickert had left the setup by now).
Ross steered the gallery in a similar direction to Rothenstein and Fothergill, combining exhibitions of young up-and-coming artists with more established names, including the Old Masters. Contemporary artists with distinctly ancient tastes were represented by the Society of Painters in Tempera, who exhibited in 1905.
In 1904 Ross had great success with a William Blake show. Max Beerbohm and the recently deceased Aubrey Beardsley were also popular features of the gallery during this period. So too was John Singer Sargent, who exhibited watercolours in 1905 and 1908. In March 1905 the premises shifted to neighbouring Bury Street (No.24), which allowed a little more space. The artist Paul Nash, who exhibited at the Carfax in 1912, described the Bury Street gallery as having a single exhibition room at the back on the ground floor, with a spiral staircase leading to a basement, storeroom and office [Paul Nash, Outline, 1988, 124-5]. The basement and staircase were used for exhibiting further work, whilst the storeroom held a collection of work by Carfax regulars.
In 1908 Ross and Adey left the gallery in the sole charge of Arthur Clifton, who continued to manage it until its demise in the mid-1920s. Although Walter Sickert had been associated with the Carfax since its foundation, Clifton put him and his followers at the centre of the gallery’s programme from 1911 to 1918. The most significant exhibitions of this period were undoubtedly the three shows organised by The Camden Town Group, which attracted widespread press attention, and remain the subject of wide cultural interest today [see The Camden Town Group in Context, Tate Online, 2012].
Amongst the other contemporary artists who regularly exhibited at the Carfax were Charles Holmes (1911, 1913 and 1919), Roger Fry (1903 and 1909) and William Rothenstein’s younger brother Albert Rutherston (1910 and 1913). Women artists were heavily represented at Carfax, including Gwen John (1903), Clare Atwood (1911), and Sylvia Gosse (1913). In 1910 The Studio noted in that ‘the galleries of Messrs Carfax have the unique distinction of never being known to have had an uninteresting exhibition, adding ‘moreover, their doors are always open to artists who are not bidding for the sensational sorts of reputation’ [‘Studio Talk’, The Studio Magazine, Vol LI, London 1910, p.229]. The gallery garnered positive reviews across the course of its career, not unaided by the fact that many of the artists who exhibited there also had links to leading journals or newspapers.
- Samuel Shaw, University of York
Address: 17 Ryder St
Start Date: by 1902
End Date: March 1905
24 Bury St (1905-at least 1920)
William Rothenstein (1872-1945)
John Fothergill (1876-1957)
Robert Ross (1869-1918)
[William] More Adey (1858-1942)
Arthur Clifton (1863-1932)
Paintings and drawings by William Orpen (1901) [NAL]
One hundred caricatures by Max Beerbohm (1901) [NAL]
Recent pastels by W. Rothenstein (1902) [NAL]
Water-colours and oil paintings by Roger Fry (1903) [NAL]
Loan exhibition of sketches and studies by J.S. Sargent, R.A. (1903) [NAL]
Works by William Blake (1904) [NAL]
Drawings in watercolour by D. S. MacColl (1906) [NAL]
Drawings by Augustus E. John (1907) [NAL]
Paintings and drawings by Albert Rothenstein (1910) [NAL]
Decorations and paintings by the late Charles Conder (1910) [NAL]
The first exhibition of the Camden Town Group (1911) [NAL]
(Full text: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/camden-town-group/the-first-exhibition-of-the-camden-town-group-r1104680)
Drawings by Paul Nash [1912?] [NAL]
Paintings and drawings by Robert Bevan (1913) [NAL]
Paintings by Lucien Pissarro (1913) [NAL]
Drawings of Japanese life by Katie Blackmore (1913) [NAL]
For more exhibitions, see: “Exhibitions associated with: Carfax Gallery”
Exhibition Culture in London 1878-1908, University of Glasgow
Borland, Maureen. Wilde’s Devoted Friend: A life of Robert Ross (1995)
Fletcher, Pamela and Anne Helmreich. “Selected galleries, dealers and exhibition spaces in London, 1850-1939.” In The Rise of the Modern Art Market in London, 1850-1939. Eds. Pamela Fletcher and Anne Helmreich. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2011. 297.
Pezzini, Barbara. “More Adey, the Carfax Gallery and the Burlington Magazine.” Burlington Magazine (December 2011): 806-814.
Pezzini, Barbara. ‘New documents regarding the Carfax Gallery: “Fans and other paintings on silk by Charles Conder” 1902’, The British Art Journal (Vol XIII, No.2) pp.19-29
Shaw, Samuel. “The Carfax Gallery and the Camden Town Group.” In The Camden Town Group in Context. Eds., Helena Bonett, Ysanne Holt, Jennifer Mundy. May 2012. [http://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/camden-town-group/samuel-shaw-the-carfax-gallery-and-the-camden-town-group-r1104371] Accessed 18 July 2012.
Shaw, Samuel. ‘ “The new ideal shop”: Founding the Carfax Gallery, c.1898-1902’, The British Art Journal (Vol XIII, No.2) pp.35-43 [also contains a revised list of Carfax Exhibitions from 1898-1921]
Unless otherwise noted, the documentation of a gallery’s start and end dates at a location is drawn from listings in The Year’s Art.