CHARLES MARCH GERE
Charles March Gere was born in Gloucester in 1869, became a student at the Birmingham School of Art in the late 1880s and a staff member in 1893. He was also a member of the “Birmingham Group,” an informal circle of talented craft workers and artists, which began to form in the 1890s. Most of the group members, including Gere, taught at the Birmingham Municipal School of Art. Under its head Edward R. Taylor it had become one of Britain’s most innovative art schools. Comparable to the famous Glasgow School of Art in its impact on late Victorian design, it was also one of the key centres of the Arts and Crafts movement. Fellow teachers at the school included Arthur Gaskin (1862-1928) Sidney Meteyard (1868-1947), Henry Payne (1868-1940) Mary Newill (1860-1947) and Bernard Sleigh (1872-1954). Joseph Southall (1861-1944) was not connected with the school, but his experiments in tempera at his Edgebaston studio provided another focus for the group.In addition, Birmingham had been the home city of Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898), and at the end of the century his fame predisposed young Birmingham painters to emulate his decorative medievalising style and his fascination with Pre-Raphaelitism. The revivals, both of tempera painting and of interest in William Blake, emerged from late Pre-Raphaelite circles and were taken up by the Birmingham Group, which provides the context for the subject and technique of Infant Joy.Group members made personal contact with William Morris (1834-1896) and Burne-Jones in the 1890s. Morris was sufficiently impressed with the Birmingham artists’ decorative drawing style to commission both Gaskin and Gere to illustrate books published by his Kelmscott Press. Gere produced the most famous illustration: the image of Kelmscott Manor, which opens Morris’s Utopian romance News From Nowhere. In this book, Morris contrasts the idyllic English countryside of an imaginary socialist future with the injustice and squalor of modern industrialised society. The idealisation of rural life is widespread in modern culture, but it was an ideal which many members of the arts and crafts movement tried to put into practice as well as express through their art; the phenomenon is studied in Jan Marsh’s Back to the Land Quartet, 1982. In 1901, Gere set Infant Joy in an Arcadian landscape, likely derived from studies made while on holiday in Italy. (The Italian style of the tiny church in the background is notable.) Gere exhibited Sunset in Perugia at the New Gallery in 1898, Assisi in 1904. In 1902, the year it was exhibited, Gere was living for the first time in Painswick in the Cotswolds, a great contrast to industrial Birmingham (then England’s second biggest city), and where he made his permanent home in 1904.Gere’s early Pre-Raphaelite phase with its imaginative subjects was short-lived. By 1910 he was concentrating on landscapes, and painting increasingly in oil. In fact he became almost exclusively a painter of serene and idyllic landscapes in the later years of his life. Although his art lost much of its early intensity, he retained a sensitivity to the spirit of place, and his later work brought him academic honours. He was elected Associate of the Royal Academy in 1934, and then Member of the Royal Academy in 1939. He was also a member of the Royal Watercolour Society. He died in 1957.