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Charles Ginner In Bethnal Green

August 1, 2017
by the gentle author

In today’s extract from my forthcoming book EAST END VERNACULAR, Artists who painted London’s East End streets in the 20th century I need your help to identify the exact location of this painting in Bethnal Green. Click here to preorder a copy of EAST END VERNACULAR

Bethnal Green Allotment (Courtesy of Manchester City Art Gallery)

How neatly aligned are the leeks in this allotment painted by Charles Ginner in 1943. They are almost as tidily organised as the council flats, assembled in towering brick mansions and each dwelling connected to its neighbour by a balcony, thus granting tenants the opportunity of both privacy and community as they feel disposed. And how convenient for the residents to have an allotment on the doorstep, encouraging them to spend their leisure time in the fresh air as well as ensuring a regular supply of fresh vegetables and soft fruit in season. A prominently placed Union Jack flutters over the allotment for all to see, serving to rouse the patriotic spirit of the gardeners and encourage them to contribute to the war effort through their horticultural labours. Observe the nettles on the right, opposing the well-ordered vegetables on the left. We know which is going to prevail.

When this picture was commissioned by the War Artists’ Advisory Committee, Charles was in his mid-sixties and a veteran Official War Artist of two world wars. Born in Cannes to British parents, he made London his home from 1910. Starting out as a young painter in France, his inspirations were Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and Paul Cézanne, but in London he joined the Camden Town Group. He shared their concern with representing everyday life and adopted their New Realism for which he wrote the manifesto, yet he brought his own post-Impressionist sensibility to it, as evidenced by his use of thick paint and bright colours.

Fellow artist Marjorie Lilly observed Charles at work at this time, noting his painstaking method, by which he “drew in his picture, faintly but carefully, then applied a thin colour wash of approximately the right colours, using turpentine so that it dried quickly. Then he started his real painting with a quantity of rather small, flat brushes and in his methodical way working from left to right across the canvas, finishing the picture in one very thick coat of paint. His aim was to complete this second coat without any corrections.”

Celebrated for his street scenes in the West End of London, Charles also painted street markets and circuses, before travelling north to portray industrial scenes, factory interiors and hospital wards. “Each age has its landscape, its atmosphere, its cities, its people. Realism, loving Life, loving its Age, interprets its Epoch by extracting from it the very essence of all it contains of great or of weak, of beautiful or of sordid, according to the individual temperament,” he wrote in 1919, “Realism is thus not only a present intimate revelation of its own time, but becomes a document for future ages. It attaches itself to history.”

Bethnal Green Allotment is a fine example of his meticulous technique and composition, dignifying the commonplace through authoritative and sympathetic representation, and delighting in a harmonious image of social order. A nineteenth century street can be seen in the background but Charles chose to view the East End as a location of recent social improvement, looking from the foreground of a communal garden.

Self portrait by Charles Ginner (1878–1952) Courtesy of Tate Gallery

Take a look at some of the other artists featured in East End Vernacular

John Allin, Artist

Pearl Binder, Artist

Dorothy Bishop, Artist

Roland Collins, Artist

Anthony Eyton, Artist

Doreen Fletcher, Artist

Barnett Freedman, Artist

Lawrence Gowing, Artist

Harry T. Harmer, Artist

Elwin Hawthorn, Artist

Rose Henriques, Artist

Dan Jones,  Artist

Leon Kossoff, Artist

Jock McFadyen, Artist

Cyril Mann, Artist

Ronald Morgan, Artist

Grace Oscroft, Artist

Peri Parkes, Artist

Henry Silk, Artist

Harold & Walter Steggles, Artists

Albert Turpin, Artist

4 Responses leave one →
  1. Helen Breen permalink
    August 1, 2017

    Greetings from Boston,

    Wow, Charles Ginner’s self portrait does channel Van Gogh in a dapper sort of way. I like it!

  2. David Bishop permalink
    August 1, 2017

    The buildings in the painting are in the same style as those on the Collingwood Estate, just south of the mainline railway. I wondered if it was Bullen House and Pellew House from the other side of Collingwood St, where there are now newer flats. But the window layout
    of the blocks in the painting doesn’t exactly match the blocks now.

  3. nicholas borden permalink
    February 6, 2019

    great artist

  4. Gwen Parker permalink
    March 13, 2021

    I love this painting, and think the allotments are in the playground of Stewart Headlam school. The flats on the left look like Fremantle House, Somerford Street, on the Collingwood Estate, E1 , where I lived in the 1970s. The mansion-style flats on the right look like those in Brady Street.

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