100 years of conviviality and party spirit. An article by London Group archivist David Redfern

“The London Group Open 2023”, which recently closed at Copeland Gallery in Peckham, was one of the most successful and important open submission exhibitions that the Group has organised in recent years. Even as the work was delivered to the gallery and as it was placed and installed, we know that there was something special here. And so it was fitting that we celebrated the occasion with a crowded Private View that must have broken many records, over 400 guests were in attendance, the red wine ran out and it was difficult to winkle out the last celebrants after the scheduled 9pm closing.

The London Group is famed for its conviviality and party spirit. At the opening to every exhibition there is always a well attended and vibrant Private View cherished by all members and guests. As Christmas and the winter solstice approach thoughts turn towards the Group’s traditional Christmas party, rudely interrupted by the pandemic in recent years. Last year Susan Haire generously offered her home above The Cello Factory for the 2022 party as a timely snow fell outside. Claude Rogers, President from 1952 to 1965, hit on a good ruse to attract reluctant members to the Annual General Meeting. He hired Bertorelli’s restaurant in Charlotte Street, a favourite with artists at the time. For a small fee he offered supper and drinks after the meeting, the ‘carrot’ worked, resulting in an increase of attendees!

The London Group 80th Anniversary Dinner at the Saatchi Collection, 1993

The Group nurtures a penchant for celebrating anniversaries. 1993 saw its eightieth anniversary marked by an Anniversary Dinner at the Saatchi Collection in Boundary Road. Current member Matthew Kolakowski told me, “I remember something of that meal…We were seated at a long table in the gallery space. I think the food was late and rather disappointing. The main dish was very YELLOW.”

Peter Clossick at The London Group 100th Anniversary Dinner at the Café Royal, 2013

The first recorded meeting of The London Group was on the 25th October 1913. Exactly one hundred years later members were invited to a reception at the spectacular Café Royal in Regent Street, a venue much frequented by artists in the early twentieth century and a place where, no doubt, the formation of a new artists’ group was debated over numerous glasses of wine. On 25th October 2013, then President Peter Clossick delivered an address to those gathered, elegantly dressed in suit and bow tie. The Café Royal had just reopened following a renovation; gold, glass and mirror bounced light around the room, intoxicating enough without the effect of the (eye-wateringly) expensive refreshments.

A few hundred yards north of the Café Royal, just off Regent Street, is Heddon Street, location of the famed “Cave of the Golden Calf”, a cabaret theatre club which opened there in a basement in 1912. Madame Strindberg, wife of the famous composer, was the driving force behind this venture, “Madame Strindberg was excited by the notion of bringing about a fusion between popular culture and artistic experiment, so that the avant-garde could benefit from the vigour, wit, and irreverence that variety theatre knew exactly how to exploit.” (Richard Cork, see below). Unfortunately, “The Cave” went bankrupt in 1914 just before the start of the First World War. The emergent London Group would have been on the lips of many of its clientele as Spencer Gore, Charles Ginner, Jacob Epstein, Wyndham Lewis and Harold Gilman, all founder members of The London Group in 1913, were responsible for the decorations on the walls of the club based upon exotic animals and tropical jungles. A fascinating article by Dr Richard Cork can be found here on ARTFORUM.

David Redfern LG, 2023