The Camden Town Group shared an approach with the Russian magpies on show at the Royal Academy, trying their influences on for size before reproducing them in their own city. But this time the artistic tide is drawing westwards.
The backdrop is London on the cusp of change: a city at its imperial zenith, a hectic and dirty machine in its pomp. Cinema is supplanting music hall, cars and buses replacing horse-drawn carriages, driving painters to reflect the spirit of the times.
The reality of these changes adds a grimy realism to the disappearing green spaces and although each of the Camden group had their moments, Sickert largely steals the show here.
The interior scenes his contemporaries recorded, he imbues with layers of psychological tension and moral ambiguity. His domination of this show creates the effect of déjà vu, since it was only recently that many of the same pieces have come fresh from the walls of the Courtauld Collection.
It is hardly the fault of the others that they struggle to match him, but Harold Gilman and Spencer Gore display a flair for colour and Robert Bevan a photographer’s eye for discreet detail.
There is a certain schizophrenia, too, in the group’s attitudes and interests, retreating to the countryside before the scene shifts back to the capital and modern themes.
The output of these sojourns is far less convincing than the depiction of trade and industry and inevitably the effects of the home front of the first world war.
Walter Bayes’ huge canvas of rich and poor sheltering side by side in the Underground hangs like an epitaph on the hopes of the new century and a warning for the fears of the next half century.
Modern Painters: the Camden TownGroup, is at Tate Britain, London SW1, until May 5, £9