Background: Robert Polhill Bevan was born in Brunswick Square, Hove, near Brighton on 5 August 1865. He was a founding member of the Camden Town Group, the London Group, and the Cumberland Market Group.
Education: His first teacher of drawing was Arthur Ernest Pearce, who later became head designer to Royal Doulton potteries. In 1888 he studied art under Fred Brown at the Westminster School of Art before moving to the Académie Julian in Paris. Amongst his fellow students were Paul Sérusier, Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillardand Maurice Denis. Bevan made his first visit to Brittany with a fellow student Eric Forbes-Robertson in 1890 and stayed at the Villa Julia, in Pont-Aven. He made a second visit in the autumn of the following year before travelling to Morocco by way of Madrid to study Velasquez and Goya at first hand. He appears to have done more fox-hunting in Tangier than drawing in the company of the artists Joseph Crawhall and George Denholm Armour and was Master of the Tangier Hunt in his second season.
Achievements: Bevan returned to Brittany in 1893. There is no evidence that he had ever met Van Gogh but it is obvious in the swirling trees and landscape of his Breton drawings that he knew his work. It is known that he was friendly with Paul Gauguin, who gave him several prints. Bevan also received encouragement from Renoir, particularly in his drawing of horses. Although not evident in the few paintings that survive from this period it is in his drawings, early prints, and two surviving wax panels that the obvious influence of Pont-Aven synthetism can be seen.
On his return to England in 1894 Bevan went to live on Exmoor where he was able to combine painting with hunting.
n the summer of 1897 Bevan met the Polish painter Stanisława de Karłowska at the wedding of Polish art student Eric Forbes-Robertson in Jersey. At the end of the year Bevan and de Karłowska married in Warsaw. Her father had extensive land in central Poland and for the remainder of their married life they would make long summer visits there.
In 1900 the Bevans settled in London at 14 Adamson Road, Swiss Cottage. Their first child, Edith Halina (Mrs Charles Baty), had been born in December 1898 and their second, Robert Alexander, in March 1901.
The summers of 1901, 1903 and 1904 were spent in Poland and it was here that some of his most colourful work was produced. The influence of Gauguin was a key role in Bevan’s development, helping him to discover the pure colour which led him to a premature Fauvism in 1904. His Courtyard of that year has been described as “one of the first exercises in the expressive use of pure colour in this century”.Bevan’s early experiments in colour can also be seen in his The Mill Pool which recalls the Talisman picture that Serusier painted to Gauguin’s instructions and was described as being “quite different in colour and really rather superior”. However his first one-man exhibition in 1905, which contained probably the most radical paintings by a British artist at that time, was not a commercial success and was hardly noticed by the critics. “Bevan evidently lost confidence in the direction it pointed and never again produced so outstanding a painting of this type. SirPhilip Hendy, in his preface to the 1961 Bevan retrospective exhibition at Colnaghi’s, commented that Bevan was perhaps the first Englishman to use pure colour in the 20th Century. He was certainly far in advance of his Camden Town colleagues in this respect.”
Bevan spent most of his summers painting. Until the First World War this was usually at family homes in Poland orSussex. However, at about this time, he was first invited down to the Blackdown Hills on the Devon-Somerset border as a guest of landowner and amateur artist Harold Harrison. Until the end of his life Bevan continued to paint in the Bolham valley and nearby Luppitt his angular style sitting well with the strong patterning of the landscape.