Modern life in all its varying forms had inspired the London-born Roberts from the very beginning of his career. Following his return to London after serving in France in the First World War, Roberts increasingly turned to the streets of the city as his artistic stimulus, capturing and celebrating the everyday life of London’s inhabitants. Bustling bus stops, crowded cafés, parks, boxing matches, street performers and a host of other settings and activities served as the subjects for the artist’s multi-figural compositions as he depicted life in the capital with what has been described as an unflinching Hogarthian eye. For Roberts, this was the central aim of painting, as he stated later in his life: ‘the artist who tells no more of his life and times, than a collection of abstract designs, might as well never have been born’ (W. Roberts, quoted in A. Gibbon Williams, William Roberts: An English Cubist, Aldershot & Burlington, Vermont, 2004, p. 82).
In Gossips, Roberts demonstrates his ability to ‘seize upon a familiar yet distinctly anti-picturesque form and transform it into a telling pictorial component’ (A.G. Williams, William Roberts: An English Cubist, Aldershot, 2004, p. 130). The distinctive composition, drawing upon his Cubist aesthetic, imbues an otherwise mundane scene of street gossip with a seemingly ritualistic mystery; conversation is crystallised amidst a scene of sideward glances, intriguing poses and exotic clothing.
We are very grateful to David Cleall and Bob Davenport for their assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.