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If British artists were drawn to Paris’s Quartier Latin, they also created their own equivalent in London’s Chelsea. Chelsea was the habitation of a number of artists by the early nineteenth century, and ‘From the early 1880s the area where Kings Road met Church Street had become known as The Latin Quarter because of the hundreds of studios in existence and being built’ (according to Anne Galbally, Charles Conder: The Last Bohemian, Melbourne University Publishing, 2003, page 122). And, while the Bohemian status for Chelsea would be increasingly disputed, with Bloomsbury and later Fitzrovia and Soho being suggested as alternatives or successors, it was sustained in both reality and the popular imagination well into the twentieth century.
By the time that H M Bateman produced A Bit of Old Chelsea in 1916 – the title suggesting pottery as well as topography – he himself was an habitué of the area, having become a member of the Chelsea Arts Club in 1910. By 1918, he would also be working there, from 5 Rossetti Studios, Flood Street. A decade earlier, Chelsea Art School had been run from that very studio by Augustus John and William Orpen, two painters who – through their artistic ambitions and flamboyant personalities – may have helped inform Bateman’s caricature of the quintessential Chelsea artist. Its questioning subtitle, ‘is it genius or liver?, seems to derive ultimately from a humorous verse that was circulating in various American newspapers in the late 1880s:
Why seems the young poet so weary and sad? Existing under constant restraint?
What is it that shuts out every thought that is glad, Is it genius or liver complaint?