Posts Tagged ‘British painter

19
Jun
22

Exhibition: ‘Walter Sickert’ at Tate Britain, London

Exhibition dates: 2nd May – 18th September 2022

Curators: The exhibition is curated by Emma Chambers (Curator, Modern British Art, Tate Britain), Caroline Corbeau-Parsons (Curator of Drawings / Conservatrice des Arts Graphiques at Musée d’Orsay) and former Curator, British Art, 1850-1915 at Tate Britain), the late Delphine Lévy (former Executive Director, Paris Musées) and Thomas Kennedy (Assistant Curator, Modern British Art, Tate Britain).

 

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Red Shop (or The October Sun)' c. 1888

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Red Shop (or The October Sun)
c. 1888
Oil on canvas
Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery, Norfolk Museums Service

 

 

I believe that Walter Sickert is an interesting and boundary pushing artist – but I remain ambivalent as to whether I like this attention seeking European modernist, this “self-proclaimed realist and literary painter with an interest in narrative” with his penchant for working-class urban culture and its “dank land of rented rooms, sickly streets and gaslit pubs,” its opium dens, street gangs and prostitutes, its black fogs and murders.

On the one hand I like the chthonic [relating to or inhabiting the underworld] darkness of his paintings, and their earthiness and essentialness, for Sickert is a chthonic deity [from Greek khthōn ‘earth’] grounded in the earth. His self-portraits appear as dark, almost eyeless creatures metastasizing from the Stygian gloom like a London pea souper fog – black fog, black dog examinations of the inner self interpreted as performances of identity. His paintings of the ghouls in the galleries at theatres are masterful in their use of colour, light and form – soaring to the heavens or buried like children in a mine, as in The Gallery at the Old Mogul (1906, below).

I am much less certain about other elements of his painting, such as the objectification of women in the numerous nudes, laid out for the viewers delectation. As Jonathan Jones observes,

“These are truly shocking images, more than a century on. Yet they have affinities with some of the greatest modern art, as the exhibition demonstrates. Sickert was strongly influenced by Degas, and in turn influenced Lucian Freud – there are nudes here by both for comparison.

The most appalling aspects of Sickert’s nudes are also their artistic strength. He rejects the phoney academic nude for raw naked reality – he even wrote an essay explaining this aesthetic. This is why he depicts women, more literally perhaps than any artist, as objects: because the body is an object, it is meat. Francis Bacon would agree with him.”1

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Francis Bacon would of course agree with him, but there is an essential difference… Bacon was a male dissecting male bodies; in Sickert’s fantasy world of murder and voyeurism, it is the male gaze looking at a disempowered and dismembered female body and his paintings “are shot through with suppressed malevolence – a horrible aura of voyeurism, encroachment or outright violence.” While the nude paintings can be seen as essential and earthy challenging the conventional approach to life painting – “The modern flood of representations of vacuous images dignified by the name of ‘the nude’ represents an artistic and intellectual bankruptcy” –  the energy which emanates from these paintings is perverse, like a butcher selling putrid meat which gives off a fecund but malodorous smell. According to Australian artist Elizabeth Gertsakis, there is a deep psychopathology present in Sickert’s work: “there are no ‘souls’ in Sickert’s art, nor is there redemption. There is despair, degeneracy and a kind biblical vengeance without the costume-play of the Testaments.”2

Finally, the late photo-based paintings from the late 1920s and 30s which would have astounded at the time of their creation, today feel frozen and stilted – the beginning of pastiche painting which lives on in the contemporary portraiture of Australia’s Archibald prize for example, where “we see the usual clumsily drawn figures; the usual ‘kooky’ whimsy; the usual ham-fisted, photo-based ‘realism’ (always the last bastion for the conceptually limited painter!). All of them dead in the water before they are even unwrapped for the scrutiny of the dull-eyed panel. Before they have even left the easel, in fact.”3 As Steve Cox observes, portrait ‘Painting’ become portrait ‘Illustration’ blossomed into its full-blown, grotesque, nadir.

Nevertheless, there are moments of sublime ecstasy in some of Sickert’s realist, narrative elegies: the red dress of Minnie Cunningham at the Old Bedford (1892, below); the “dynamic evocation of the local fair in Dieppe” with its background “enriched with acidic greens, lurid yellows and vivid scarlets” in The Fair at Night (c. 1902-1903, below); the gold decoration of the arch in The Horses of St Mark’s, Venice (c. 1901-1906, below); and the poignancy of the emaciated figure that is Aubrey Beardsley (1894, below), a haunting appearance suggested by the deftest and most skilful application of paint in search of a soul that you are ever likely to see.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Jonathan Jones. “Walter Sickert review – serial killer, fantasist or self-hater? This hellish, brilliant show only leaves questions,” on The Guardian website Tue 26 Apr 2022 [Online] Cited 15/05/2022
  2. Elizabeth Gertsakis in conversation with Marcus Bunyan 19/06/2022
  3. Steve Cox. “Thoughts on the Anti-Art Event, the Archibald Prize,” on Facebook May 7, 2022 [Online] Cited 18/06/2022

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Many thankx to Tate Britain for allowing me to publish the media images in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Discover the boundary-pushing paintings by one of Britain’s most influential artists

Walter Sickert is recognised as one of the most important artists of the 20th century, having helped shape modern British art as we know it. With ties to renowned painters from James Abbott McNeill Whistler to Edgar Degas, he strengthened the artistic connections between Britain and France and continues to influence contemporary painters to this very day.

The first major retrospective of Sickert at Tate in over 60 years, this exhibition explores how he had an often radical, distinctive approach to setting and subject matter. From working off detailed sketches to taking inspiration from news photography, these were the tools he used to depict his vision of everyday life.

A former actor, he had a flair and fascination for all things theatrical, including performers in music halls crafted on canvas, and nude portraits staged in intimate, domestic settings. His imagination was also fuelled by current events including the rise of celebrity culture, and he used this to create compelling narratives.

Much like the man, his art was complex. Creative and colourful, his body of work was ever-changing and can be interpreted in different ways. His own self-portraits, for example, showcase how he evolved throughout his career – from his beginnings as an actor and artistic apprentice, to becoming one of the most gifted and influential artists of his time.

 

 

This sense of a narrative runs against the grain of what has come to be construed as ‘modern’ in modern art. But Sickert insisted that ‘All the great draughtsmen tell a story’.16 He maintained that no country could have a great school of painting when the unfortunate artist was confined ‘to the choice between the noble site as displayed in the picture-postcard, or the quite nice young person, in what Henry James has called a wilderness of chintz’.17 He was a self-proclaimed realist and literary painter with an interest in narrative and an obsession with facture [i.e. the quality of the execution of a painting; an artist’s characteristic handling of the paint]. (He called it ‘the cooking side of painting’.18) He did not believe in severing subject and treatment:

“Is it not possible that this antithesis is meaningless, and that the two things are one, and that an idea does not exist apart from its exact expression? … The real subject of a picture or a drawing … and all the world of pathos, of poetry, of sentiment that it succeeds in conveying, is conveyed by means of the plastic facts expressed … If the subject of a picture could be stated in words there had been no need to paint it.”

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It is in this sense – rather than in any quibbling as to the recorded details of Emily Dimmock’s murder in 1907 – that Sickert’s paintings are not illustrations. They cannot be decanted into words. And they do not use the available ‘language’ of illustration for sensational events, evident in the depictions of the Camden Town Murder in such publications as the Illustrated Police Budget and News.20 But their subject matters.

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Walter Sickert, ‘The Language of Art’, New Age, 28 July 1910, quoted in Osbert Sitwell (ed.), A Free House! or The Artist as Craftsman: Being the Writings of Walter Richard Sickert, Macmillan, London 1947, p. 89 in Lisa Tickner. “Walter Sickert: The Camden Town Murder and Tabloid Crime,” on the Tate website Nd [Online] Cited 17/05/2022

 

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Juvenile Lead (Self Portrait)' 1907

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Juvenile Lead (Self Portrait)
1907
Oil on canvas
Southampton City Art Gallery

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Self-portrait' c. 1896

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Self-portrait
c. 1896
Oil on canvas
Leeds Art Gallery
© Bridgeman images

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Self Portrait: The Bust of Tom Sayers' c. 1913-1915

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Self Portrait: The Bust of Tom Sayers
c. 1913-1915
Oil on canvas
The Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

 

 

Walter Sickert | Trailer | Tate

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at left, Little Dot Hetherington at the Bedford Music Hall 1888-1889 below; at and right, The P.S. Wings in the O.P. Mirror c. 1888-1889 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Little Dot Hetherington at the Bedford Music Hall' 1888-1889

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Little Dot Hetherington at the Bedford Music Hall
1888-1889
Oil on canvas
Private collection
Photo: James Mann

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The P.S. Wings in the O.P. Mirror' c. 1888-1889

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The P.S. Wings in the O.P. Mirror
c. 1888-1889
Oil on canvas
Rouen, Musée des Beaux-Arts

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at left, Edgar Degas’ The Ballet Scene from Giacomo Meyerbeer’s opera “Robert le Diable” 1876, below; and at right, Little Dot Hetherington at the Bedford Music Hall 1888-1889 above

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917) 'The Ballet Scene from Giacomo Meyerbeer's opera "Robert le Diable"' 1876

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
The Ballet Scene from Giacomo Meyerbeer’s opera “Robert le Diable”
1876
Height: 76.6cm (30.1 in)
Width: 81.3cm (32 in)
Victoria and Albert Museum
Public domain

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at left, Gallery of the Old Bedford 1894-1895 below; at second left, Noctes Ambrosianae, Gallery of the Old Mogul 1906-1907 below; and at fourth left, The Gallery at the Old Mogul 1906 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Gallery of the Old Bedford' 1894-1895

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Gallery of the Old Bedford
1894-1895
Oil on canvas
Purchased by the Walker Art Gallery in 1947

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Noctes Ambrosianae, Gallery of the Old Mogul' 1906-1907

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Noctes Ambrosianae, Gallery of the Old Mogul
1906-1907
Oil on canvas
63.7 x 76.6cm
Birmingham Museums Trust
Purchased 1949

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Gallery at the Old Mogul' 1906

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Gallery at the Old Mogul
1906
Oil on canvas
63.5 x 67cm

 

 

Walter Sickert’s The Gallery at the Old Mogul is thought to be one of the earliest paintings in the world of a cinematic performance. Early press descriptions prove that the original title of the picture was Cinematograph and shows a film screening of a Western.

Before the existence of purpose built cinemas, films were often shown in music halls as part of the evening’s entertainment. ‘The Old Mogul’ was the original name for the Middlesex Music Hall in Drury Lane, remodelled and renamed in the 1870s, and variously known as ‘the Mogul Tavern’, ‘the Old Mo’, and ‘the Old Middlesex’. The present work was painted soon after Sickert’s return to London in 1906, at a time when Sickert was rediscovering his fascination for music-hall subjects. ‘I have started many beautiful music-hall pictures. I go to the Mogul Tavern every night, Sickert wrote to Jacques-Émile Blanche in 1906. Related works of the same subject include Noctes Ambrosianae painted in the same year and four related drawings in the Walker Art Gallery Liverpool and Aberdeen Art Gallery. …

Sickert’s inspiration for depicting new forms of entertainment such as cinema performances stemmed partly from French artists, including Degas’ depictions of Parisian Café Concerts and theatres. Sickert, however, was one of the first artists to examine scenes of popular entertainment in a British art context. Unlike Degas, the focus is less on the performance – or in this case screening – and more on the relationship of the audience to the show. This method was developed in Sickert’s earliest entertainment works such as the Old Bedford Gallery pictures of the 1890s [above], which like the present work choose to focus on the audience from behind, inviting the viewer to feel at once a part of the spectacle and yet distant from the subjects. This tool was partly borrowed by Sickert from French Impressionist works such as Manet’s Un bar aux Folies Bergère, where the viewer is made to feel like they are ordering a drink at a bar but is unable to witness the full transaction. Sickert’s ability to create this ambiguity allows the onlooker to invent narratives for the scene, and is one of the reasons he remarked to Virginia Woolf, ‘I have always been a literary painter’ (V. Woolf, Walter Sickert: A Conversation, London, 1934, p. 26). While Sickert’s work may not have the sentiment or caricature of Charles Dickens’ (as loosely suggested by Woolf in 1934), it often manages to give the impression that you are viewing a moment in time, a snapshot that leaves one guessing as to what has just happened or what will happen next.

It is of no surprise therefore, that in later years Sickert began increasingly to adapt compositions directly from photographs. Yet unlike a photograph, The Gallery at the Old Mogul seems full of movement. Sickert maintains the ability not to simply depict but to create dramatic atmosphere through low tones and a liquid handling of paint reminiscent of Whistler and indeed of a cinematic performance. The Gallery at the Old Mogul successfully predicted not only the importance of film on everyday cultural life but on many subsequent art movements such as the Cubist works of Braque and Picasso between 1907-1914.

Jon Fauer. “First painting of a Movie Theater: Sickert’s “The Gallery at the Old Mogul”,” on the Film and Digital Times website 16/06/2016 [Online] Cited 15/05/2022

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Pit at the Old Bedford' 1889

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Pit at the Old Bedford
1889
Oil on canvas
34.5 x 30.0cm
Fondation Bemberg

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Vesta Victoria at the Old Bedford' c. 1890

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Vesta Victoria at the Old Bedford
c. 1890
Oil on panel
14 1/2 x 9 1/4 ins (37 x 23.5cms)
Private collection, UK

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Gaîté Montparnasse' c. 1907

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Gaîté Montparnasse
c. 1907
Oil paint on canvas
612 × 508 mm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Mr. and Mrs. Allan D. Emil Fund, 1958

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at left, Minnie Cunningham at the Old Bedford 1892 below; and at right, Brighton Pierrots 1915 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Minnie Cunningham at the Old Bedford' 1892

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Minnie Cunningham at the Old Bedford
1892
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 765 × 638 mm
Frame: 915 × 787 × 69 mm
Tate
Purchased 1976

 

 

Minnie Cunningham was a popular performer at the Old Bedford Music Hall in Camden Town. Sickert went there regularly and made dozens of sketches capturing the effects of light and movement on the stage and in the auditorium. Here, Sickert paints from the point of view of an audience member. He first exhibited it with the subtitle ‘I’m an old hand at love, though I’m young in years’, a quote from one of Cunningham’s songs. Sickert painted the ordinary life he saw around him.

Gallery label, September 2020

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Brighton Pierrots' 1915

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Brighton Pierrots
1915
Oil on canvas
Tate
Purchased with assistance from the Art Fund and the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1996

 

 

This week, Tate Britain opened London’s biggest retrospective of Walter Sickert (1860-1942) in almost 30 years. A master of self-invention and theatricality, Sickert took a radically modern approach to painting in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, transforming how everyday life was captured on canvas. This major exhibition features over 150 of his works from over 70 public and private collections, from scenes of rowdy music halls to ground-breaking nudes and narrative subjects. Spanning Sickert’s six-decade career, it uncovers the people, places and subjects that inspired him and explores his legacy as one of Britain’s most distinctive, provocative, and influential artists.

Highlights include 10 of Sickert’s iconic self-portraits, from the start of his career to his final years. For the first time, these portraits are brought together from collections across the UK and internationally, including the National Portrait Gallery in London, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, and the Art Gallery of Hamilton in Canada. The variety of different personas adopted by Sickert over the years are shown together – a legacy of his early life as an actor – and how his complex personality evolved on the canvas throughout his career.

Sickert’s interest in the stage is also reflected in one of his favourite artistic subjects: the music hall. His dramatic images of performers and audiences, often captured together from unusual and spectacular angles, evoked the energy of working-class city nightlife. The exhibition examines Sickert’s British and French music hall subjects together through over 30 atmospheric paintings and drawings of halls in London and Paris, including The Old Bedford 1894-1895, Gaité Montparnasse 1907 and Théâtre de Montmartre c. 1906 as well as depictions of famous performers such as Minnie Cunningham and Little Dot Hetherington. Although these subjects were deemed inappropriate by much of the British art world at the time, they took inspiration from the café-concert subjects of celebrated French artists such as Edouard Manet and the ballet subjects of Edgar Degas, a close friend and major influence on Sickert after they met in Paris in the 1880s.

The exhibition is the first to explore the impact of another of Sickert’s key influences, from his time as an assistant in the studio of renowned American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Paintings by both artists, including Whistler’s A Shop 1884-1890 and Sickert’s A Shop in Dieppe 1886-1888 have been brought together, as well as Whistler’s 1895 portrait of Sickert himself, to reveal how the young artist was inspired by his mentor’s atmospheric tonal style and urban subjects. The show examines how Sickert went on to create series of works that experimented with how changing light transformed the facades of famous buildings in some of his favourite cities, including Dieppe and Venice.

Sickert revolutionised the traditional genres of painting in ways that changed the course of British art. His nudes were admired in France but disapproved of in Britain, where they were considered immoral because of their unidealised bodies, contemporary settings and voyeuristic framings. They drew on the influence of artists such as Bonnard and Degas and paved the way for later painters like Lucian Freud. The Camden Town Murder series further transformed Sickert’s nude subjects into narrative paintings by juxtaposing two figures in a claustrophobic interior, while his other domestic scenes such as Ennui 1914 and Off To the Pub 1911 continued this exploration of conflicted emotions and complex modern relationships.

In his final years, his work took on a new and ground-breaking form in larger, brighter paintings based on news photographs and popular culture, including images of Amelia Earhart’s solo flight across the Atlantic and Peggy Ashcroft in a production Romeo and Juliet. This pioneering approach to photography was an important precursor to Francis Bacon’s use of source material and to pop art’s transformation of images from the media, once again revealing Sickert’s role at the forefront of developments in British art.

Walter Sickert is organised by Tate Britain in collaboration with the Petit Palais, Paris. The exhibition is curated by Emma Chambers (Curator, Modern British Art, Tate Britain), Caroline Corbeau-Parsons (Curator of Drawings / Conservatrice des Arts Graphiques at Musée d’Orsay) and former Curator, British Art, 1850-1915 at Tate Britain), the late Delphine Lévy (former Executive Director, Paris Musées) and Thomas Kennedy (Assistant Curator, Modern British Art, Tate Britain). It is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue from Tate Publishing.

Press release from Tate Britain

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation views of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at centre in the bottom photograph, The Mantelpiece c. 1906-1907 below; and at right, Girl at a Window, Little Rachel 1907 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Mantelpiece' c. 1906-1907

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Mantelpiece
c. 1906-1907
Oil paint on canvas
762 x 508 mm
Southampton City Art Gallery
© Estate of Walter R. Sickert / DACS
Photo © Southampton City Art Gallery, Hampshire, UK / The Bridgeman Art Library

 

 

The art historian Wendy Baron has identified the theme of the mantelpiece still life as an offshoot of Walter Sickert’s paintings of interiors with figures, although Sands may also have been aware of Edouard Vuillard’s painting, The Mantelpiece (La Cheminée) 1905 (fig.1). Large decorative fire surrounds in marble or wood became fashionable during the Victorian period, emphasising the open fire as the focus of a room with its symbolic notions of the domestic hearth and home. By the early twentieth century these mantelpieces, usually surmounted by a large overmantel mirror and a shelf broad enough to accommodate an array of ornaments, were a standard feature in most homes, as can be seen in the dingy and claustrophobic interior of Sickert’s famous painting, Ennui c. 1914 (Tate N03846). They were a feature instantly recognisable as characteristic of their time and appear in a number of paintings of Camden Town interiors by Sickert and his circle such as The Mantelpiece c. 1906-1907 (fig.2) by Sickert, and Spencer Gore’s Conversation Piece and Self-Portrait c. 1910 (private collection). Artists developing a more self-consciously abstract style used the mantelpiece and the inevitable shelf of clutter as a subject, even in Duncan Grant’s and Vanessa Bell’s paintings of the same mantelpiece in Bell’s house at 46 Gordon Square, The Mantelpiece 1914 (Tate T01328, fig.3) and Still Life on Corner of a Mantelpiece 1914 (Tate T01133, fig.4), where, however, it holds a piece of hand-made Bloomsbury decoration.

Nicola Moorby. “Ethel Sands: Flowers in a Jug ?1920s,” on the Tate website The Camden Town Group in Context July 2003 [Online] Cited 09/05/2022

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Girl at a Window, Little Rachel' 1907

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Girl at a Window, Little Rachel
1907
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 508 × 406 mm
Frame: 765 × 665 × 75 mm
Tate

 

 

This is one of six paintings and numerous drawings of Sickert’s frame-maker’s 13-year-old daughter, known affectionately as ‘Little Rachel’. Sickert described the series as a ‘set of studies of Illumination’. The scene outside the window is Mornington Crescent Gardens, Camden. The girl’s gaze is turned away from both the artist and the view. The closed window may suggest the future that was expected of her at the time, a future inside the home, as a wife and mother.

Gallery label, October 2020

 

This painting is dominated by the French window of Sickert’s north-facing front room at 6 Mornington Crescent. Light falls softly on the dim figure of the red-haired girl, seen looking across Mornington Crescent Gardens. Rachel, the daughter of his frame maker, features in five known oil paintings by Sickert.

 

There are five other known oils of the same sitter: Girl at a Looking-Glass, Little Rachel (fig.1);3 Little Rachel (National Art Gallery of Queensland, Brisbane),4 a head and shoulders portrait, probably seated on Sickert’s bed; Little Rachel (private collection),5 a three-quarter-length portrait of the sitter half turned, with light falling on her face; and Little Rachel (Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery),6 an oil study in profile. In all these works she wears the same blouse as in Tate’s picture. There are several drawings of Rachel, some of which relate to these paintings, but none of them is a study for Tate’s oil.7

According to Sickert’s title for one of these oils and one of the drawings, the sitter was the daughter of his frame maker. Using information supplied by Agnew’s, the art historian Wendy Baron records that Rachel’s surname was Siderman, and that she died in 1963 aged 70. …

In Girl at a Window, Little Rachel, Sickert shows his sitter standing by the French windows of his north-facing, first-floor front room at 6 Mornington Crescent, London NW1, which he kept in 1907, just a few doors away from his friend Spencer Gore who lived at number 31. The room was rented, as Sickert wrote in a letter of 1907 to Nan Hudson addressed from Mornington Crescent, ‘I rather hope that when I come back in the autumn I may take the floor above my lodgings here as a room-studio and do the interiors I love’.11 The 1907 Kelly’s Camden and Kentish Town Directory lists the householder as ‘Mrs George Jones Jr’, who was presumably Sickert’s landlady. Mornington Crescent was only one of Sickert’s addresses, and at this time he also had another studio in Fitzroy Street. Following his return to London in 1905 Sickert had continued the practice he followed in Dieppe of keeping several studios at once, which probably sometimes doubled as living accommodation. The art critic Clive Bell recalled Sickert at a somewhat later period ‘showing us his “studios” – “my drawing studio” “my etching studio” etc. The operation involved chartering a cab and visiting a series of small rooms in different parts of London.’

Robert Upstone. “Walter Richard Sickert: Girl at a Window, Little Rachel 1907,” on the Tate website The Camden Town Group in Context May 2009 [Online] Cited 18/06/2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at left, Nude Stretching: La Coiffure 1905-1906 below; and at centre, Reclining Nude – Le Lit de Cuivre about 1906 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Nude Stretching: La Coiffure' 1905-1906

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Nude Stretching: La Coiffure
1905-1906
Pastel
71 x 55cm

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Reclining Nude – Le Lit de Cuivre' About 1906

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Reclining Nude – Le Lit de Cuivre
About 1906
Oil on canvas
644 x 541 mm
Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery, Exeter City Council

 

 

Female nude reclining on a bed which has brass bedsteads. Le Lit de Cuivre translates to ‘copper bed’. There are several versions of this painting in existence. Sickert had begun to draw nudes on metal bedsteads in Dieppe in 1902 and on his return from Venice in 1904 he began to paint the subject. He continued to do so in London often working from drawings made in France eg. “Le Lit de Fer”. In many of his post-Venetian paintings of the nude, Sickert broke away from a horizontal planar emphasis by placing the bed in a diagonal recession or even at right angles to the surface. This work shows how Sickert had begun to develop a broken, crusty touch in the paint work.

Text from the Google Arts and Culture website

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Jack the Ripper's Bedroom' 1906-1907

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Jack the Ripper’s Bedroom
1906-1907
Oil on canvas
50.8 x 40.7cm
Manchester Art Gallery
Bequeathed by Mrs Mary Cicely Tatlock, 1980

 

 

Dark, shadowy view of a bedroom seen through an open doorway. A wooden chair is in the foreground, in what is probably the hallway, to the left of the open door. A dressing table and chair are just distinguishable beneath the filtered pink half-light coming through the horizontal slats of the blind that covers the window at the back of the room. The items of furniture are so indistinct as to make it conceivable that there is a person sitting on the chair, although there is no one there. The bedroom is that of Sickert’s own lodgings at 6 Mornington Crescent. His landlady had told Sickert that she suspected the previous tenant might have been Jack the Ripper, the famous murderer.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at left, Nude Stretching: La Coiffure 1905-1906 above; and at second left, Reclining Nude – Le Lit de Cuivre about 1906 above

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at second left, Jack Ashore 1912-1913 below; at second right, The Iron Bedstead c. 1908 below; and at right, Mornington Crescent Nude c. 1907 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Jack Ashore' 1912-1913

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Jack Ashore
1912-1913
Oil paint on canvas
Object: 368 × 298 mm
Frame: 568 × 494 × 92 mm
Pallant House Gallery, Chichester
Wilson Gift through the Art Fund 2006

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Iron Bedstead' c. 1908

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Iron Bedstead
c. 1908
Oil on canvas
39.5 x 50cm
Earl and Countess of Harewood

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Mornington Crescent Nude' c. 1907

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Mornington Crescent Nude
c. 1907
Oil on canvas
45.7 x 50.8cm
The Fitzwilliam Museum
Gift from Mrs Maurice Hill

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Camden Town Murder, or, What Shall We Do for the Rent' c. 1908

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Camden Town Murder, or, What Shall We Do for the Rent
c. 1908
Oil on canvas
Yale Center for British Art

 

 

But the question is what Sickert is staging in his own theatre, that dank land of rented rooms, sickly streets and gaslit pubs where men and women are at stalemate. The aesthetic origins are clear enough. Sickert – half Danish, student of Whistler, friend of Degas, admirer of Bonnard – continually aspires to European modernism. The debts are everywhere visible in the show. The most famous painting here, Ennui, pays direct homage to Degas’s drinkers stalled over their absinthe in Paris cafes with more than just its French title.

Five feet high, it is an immense snapshot of suicidal boredom. The glassy-eyed man lolls over his half-empty pint at the table; the woman leans on the chest of drawers, staring straight at the imprisoning walls. Next to her is a case of stuffed birds, trapped in a bell jar of their own. “It is all over with them,” wrote Virginia Woolf, imagining that innumerable dull days had crushed them like “an avalanche of rubbish.”

But the scene is conspicuously staged (to be reprised four more times), and eagle-eyed visitors will recognise the same models in other paintings. Hubby, as he was called, seems to have been an acquaintance of Sickert who had fallen on hard times; Marie was his cleaning lady. He has these working people pose again and again.

Hubby is just edging out of the scene on the way to the pub, just arriving, or terminally slumped. He reappears, with his sleeves menacingly rolled, over a naked woman on a bed in one of the so-called Camden Town nudes. Tate Britain has not shied away from showing a whole gallery of these paintings, which are shot through with suppressed malevolence – a horrible aura of voyeurism, encroachment or outright violence.

The relationship between the prone and naked woman and the clothed man, seated or standing, is disturbing enough. But in at least one painting, the notorious L’Affaire de Camden Town [below], the female body looks beaten like a heap of purpling meat in the gloom, and she is either shielding herself from the man above her, or she is already dead.

Sickert so often fudged (or simply fumbled) human anatomy that the question is how hard he worked to achieve this dark ambiguity. The title of this particular work refers to the murder of a woman named Emily Dimmock in Camden Town in 1907. Sickert’s paintings are a queasy conflation of crime scene, studio setup and social history, and he liked to confuse things further with deflecting titles. One picture is called What Shall We Do for the Rent? [above]

Laura Cumming. “Walter Sickert review – a master of menace,” on The Guardian website Sun 1 May 2022 [Online] Cited 12/05/2022

 

And the centre of this exhibition is a no-holds-barred display of Sickert’s nudes. Against the dark walls of the gallery, in fierce yet subtle lighting, the women are laid out. Their bodies are spread, exhibited, arranged, “like a patient etherised upon a table”, to quote TS Eliot. One model lies with her legs hanging over the bed, her arms spread out. She could be the dead Christ. Another is washing, but as she bends in a doorway we can’t see her head, only her naked body.

L’Affaire de Camden Town [below] takes it to another level. In this 1909 painting, a man stands over an inert female form on a bed. But it is worse than that. She is not so much a continuous figure as a collection of ruddy, moist forms like meat in a butcher’s window. The male onlooker could be a killer contemplating his handiwork – which is exactly what Sickert’s title implies. For this is one of a series of paintings that allude to the murder of Emily Elizabeth Dimmock in Camden, London, in 1907. Sickert became fascinated by this murder. If he really is responsible for sketches of a man with a knife over a woman’s body in the Ripper letters of 1888, his Camden Town Murder paintings eerily echo them.

In The Camden Town Murder, or What Shall We Do for the Rent?, [above] the man sits in despair while the nude on the iron bed has her face turned from us. She may be crying or he may have just throttled her. The stiffness of her arm and awkwardly placed hand suggests the latter. In a drawing called Persuasion a bald, bearded man appears to strangle a woman before our eyes.

These are truly shocking images, more than a century on. Yet they have affinities with some of the greatest modern art, as the exhibition demonstrates. Sickert was strongly influenced by Degas, and in turn influenced Lucian Freud – there are nudes here by both for comparison.

The most appalling aspects of Sickert’s nudes are also their artistic strength. He rejects the phoney academic nude for raw naked reality – he even wrote an essay explaining this aesthetic. This is why he depicts women, more literally perhaps than any artist, as objects: because the body is an object, it is meat. Francis Bacon would agree with him.

Jonathan Jones. “Walter Sickert review – serial killer, fantasist or self-hater? This hellish, brilliant show only leaves questions,” on The Guardian website Tue 26 Apr 2022 [Online] Cited 15/05/2022

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'L'Affaire de Camden Town' 1909

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
L’Affaire de Camden Town
1909
Oil on canvas
Private collection

 

 

[Liam] Scarlett sees Sickert as a self-styled enigma. In society he was an entertaining, ambitious parvenu, flaunting his connections with royalty, his inclusion in aristocratic circles; professionally, however, he worked as a recluse, renting studios in the dingiest slums of London. He was a painter of secrets, coding visual puzzles into his canvases, giving them wilfully ambiguous titles. And even in an era where everybody was enthralled by crime, he was peculiarly obsessed, fascinated by the prostitutes in the streets around his studios, by the men who used them, and especially by the men who killed them. …

Sickert produced the Camden Town Murder paintings, a series of four, in 1908. They were inspired by the murder the previous year of a prostitute, Emily Dimmock, and present variations on the same unsettling image: a naked woman, sprawled limply over a bed next to a fully clothed man who may or may not be her killer.

The atmosphere in the paintings is both brutal and ambiguous; Scarlett describes it as “seething”, and as he researched deeper into Sickert’s work he saw it echoed many times. In the Camden Town Nude series (1905-1912) the women look like victims, even when they’re alive, their faces obliterated by a slash or blur of paint, their bodies laid out for the artist’s dissecting gaze. Sickert’s mentor, Degas, also played with a queasy element of voyeurism, but Sickert makes the threat overt. Scarlett, who has collected books about the artist, points to a white brushstroke in one of the paintings that makes a “dagger-like approach to the woman’s genital area”.

Even in the paintings where no male aggression is implied, age and poverty make harsh assaults on Sickert’s nudes, their flesh drained of colour, curdled, clotted and veiny, sometimes covered with sores.

Judith Mackrell. “Walter Sickert and the dance of death,” on The Guardian website Mon 19 Mar 2012 [Online] Cited 15/05/2022

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'La Hollandaise' c. 1906

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
La Hollandaise
c. 1906
Oil on canvas
Tate
Purchased 1983

 

 

 

‘The naked and the Nude’

As with much of Sickert’s work it is not entirely clear what effect the artist intended to create. When viewed in the context of Sickert’s views on the nude, the treatment of the body in La Hollandaise can be read, not as disturbing, but as painterly. In Sickert’s opinion paintings should always show ‘someone, somewhere’.11 He firmly outlined his beliefs in an article in the New Age, July 1910, entitled ‘The naked and the Nude’, in which he condemned art school practice which taught students to draw idealised, ‘lifeless’ nudes without reference to the real world. Instead, he articulated, the focus should be placed on drawing the clothed figure, or at least figures set within a real environment in which context their nakedness made some sense. He concluded:

Perhaps the chief source of pleasure in the aspect of a nude is that it is in the nature of a gleam – a gleam of light and warmth and life. And that it should appear thus, it should be set in surroundings of drapery or other contrasting surfaces.12

.
In La Hollandaise the mottled appearance of the skin is a study of the effects of colour and light on the body, and certain areas such as the left breast are elegantly and delicately painted. It is certain, however, that Sickert was aware of the complex multiplicity of the image, and despite intending the painting to be an aesthetic treatment of the body, he was by no means innocent of its provocative and disturbing possibilities.

Sickert went on to exploit these possibilities even further in his most notorious set of works, the Camden Town Murder paintings, 1908-1909. These pictures, which referred to the recent local murder of a prostitute, caused a sensation when exhibited at the first Camden Town Group exhibition in June 1911. Once again, the ubiquitous iron bedstead featured as the central focal point around which Sickert organised a figural tableau. Unlike his earlier series, however, the artist now paired an unclothed female with a fully dressed male which greatly altered the context of the nude in an interior. In paintings such as The Camden Town Murder or What Shall We Do About the Rent? c.1908 (fig.3)13 [above] and L’Affaire de Camden Town 1909 (fig.4),14 [above] the inclusion of a clothed male protagonist introduces an implied narrative of violence and sex. Although not as extreme or overt, these sordid undercurrents are present in La Hollandaise.

 

‘La Hollandaise’

The art historian Richard Shone has suggested that the title may have been inspired by one of the minor incidental female characters in the novels of Honoré de Balzac. Sarah Gobseck, a prostitute who appears in several of the stories of Balzac’s La Comédie humaine, is familiarly known as ‘la belle Hollandaise’. This ‘magnificent creature’ is purported to be the grand-niece of a Dutch money-lender who leads an immoral and wanton life and is eventually murdered by one of her clients. The title of the painting, therefore, is possibly intended to project connotations of prostitution, or, less specifically, to be representative of a generic grim realism. In Balzac’s Rise and Fall of Cesar Birotteau (published 1838), the character is described as ‘one of those mad-cap women who care nothing as to where the money comes from, or how it is obtained … she never thought of the morrow, for her the future was after dinner, and the end of the month eternity, even if she had bills to pay’,15 a statement which may have appealed to Sickert as reminiscent of his own imprudent character.

The title of La Hollandaise translates as ‘The Dutch Girl’ and may reflect a sense of seriality when linked to other works of this period. It is one of a number of paintings by Sickert with similarly continental titles, for example La Jolie Veneitienne 1903-1904 (private collection),16 La Belle Sicilienne c. 1905 (David Fullen),17 La Belle Rousse c. 1905 (private collection),18 Les Petites Belges 1906 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston),19 and The Belgian Cocotte 1906 (Arts Council Collection, London).20 Furthermore, as Wendy Baron has noted, the foreshortened figure and crossed placement of limbs recalls Sickert’s earlier group of Venetian nudes, for example, Conversations 1903-1904 (private collection).21 Sickert himself was a cosmopolitan character, equally at home in London, Dieppe or Venice. Despite reducing the means of identifying one model from another to a label indicating their nationality, he was not actually interested in analysing cultural difference. Rather his titles reflect the sameness of his approach. His interest lay in finding models from within a certain class of woman and painting them in a variety of poses, both nude and clothed, against an interior that was uniformly dingy and unprepossessing. Essentially, Sickert believed, the experience of urban existence was the same wherever he went.

Nicola Moorby. “La Hollandaise c. 1906,” on the Tate website March 2007 [Online] Cited 17/05/2022

 

Footnotes

11. Walter Sickert, ‘On the Conduct of a Talent’, New Age, 11 June 1914, p. 131, in Robins (ed.) 2000, p. 377.
12. Walter Sickert, ‘The naked and the Nude’, New Age, 21 July 1910, p. 277, in Robins (ed.) 2000, p. 263.
13. Baron 2006, no. 348.
14. Baron 2006, no. 354.
15. Honoré de Balzac, Rise and Fall of Cesar Birotteau, 1838.
16. Reproduced in Baron 2006, no. 206.
17. Reproduced ibid., no. 240.
18. Baron 2006, no. 235; reproduced in Royal Academy 1992, fig.123, p. 158.
19. Reproduced in Baron 2006, no. 261.
20. Reproduced ibid., no. 265.
21. Wendy Baron, ‘The Process of Invention. Interrelated or Interdependent: Sickert’s Drawings and Paintings of Intimate Figure Subjects’, in Walter Sickert: The Camden Town Nudes, exhibition catalogue, Courtauld Institute of Art, London 2007, p. 35, reproduced fig.13, p. 31; Baron 2006, no. 217.

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Nuit d'Été' c. 1906

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Nuit d’Été
c. 1906
Oil paint on canvas
Object: 508 × 406 mm
Frame: 670 × 570 mm
Private collection, courtesy of Offer Waterman, London

 

 

Walter Sickert exhibition guide

Walter Richard Sickert’s approach to art making was distinctive, provocative and influential. He was a master of self-invention and theatricality, transforming how everyday life was captured on canvas. Spanning his six-decade career, this exhibition uncovers the people, places and events that inspired him. Born in Munich, Germany in 1860, Sickert moved with his family to England when he was eight years old. His father was an artist, introducing him to the work of prominent French and British artists, but Sickert initially pursued a career as an actor. He switched to art in 1882, studying briefly at the Slade School of Fine Art, London, before becoming a pupil of American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Sickert became a central figure of the British artistic avant-garde, as both a painter and a critic.

Sickert created important artistic links between Britain and France, and he spent significant periods of his working life in France. He was a founding member of the New English Art Club, formed as a French-influenced alternative to the more traditional Royal Academy, and the leader of the Camden Town Group of artists who were influenced by post-impressionism.

[Artists associated with the Camden Town Group painted realist scenes of city life and some landscape in a range of post-impressionist styles. The group is named after the seedy district of north London where Walter Sickert had lived in the 1890s (and again from 1907). Sickert’s series of Camden Town nudes and his paintings of alienated couples in interiors, such as Ennui, are his outstanding contribution to Camden Town art.]

Sickert’s innovative painting techniques and subject matter always kept him at the forefront of developments in British art. Sickert said: ‘The plastic arts [visual arts] are gross arts, dealing joyously with gross material facts.’ It was Sickert’s embrace of this materiality – both in his handling of paint and in the exploration of the lives of ordinary people and places – that was ground-breaking in his time. These ideas would go on to inspire generations of younger artists, as well as prominent contemporary painters who cite him as an influence.

 

1. Sickert’s Identities

This room brings together self-portraits Sickert produced throughout his career. Looking at the works, we can see the wide range of techniques and source material Sickert used and the varied ways he presented himself publicly. Having trained as an actor, Sickert could skilfully adopt different personas in his self-portraits, depending on his preoccupations at the time. As well as examinations of the inner self, these works can be interpreted as performances of identity. Early self-portraits feature strong lighting which creates an intense, dramatic effect. Later paintings show the established artist in his studio, surrounded by the tools of his trade. He presents himself as an artist, actor, and even as biblical characters. His later portraits are often based on photographs taken by his wife, Thérèse Lessore.

 

2. The Apprenticeship Years: from Whistler to Degas

After a brief spell at the Slade School of Fine Art, Sickert began his artistic career in 1882 at James Abott McNeill Whistler’s studio, as an assistant helping to print etching plates. Sickert’s own etchings at the time were close in style to Whistler’s, often representing urban scenes with a deliberate economy of line. He was also influenced by Whistler’s small oil panels, painted from life.

Displayed in this room are panels by both Sickert and Whistler, depicting shopfronts in Dieppe and London. They show that Dieppe was an important location for Sickert from his earliest days as an artist. We can also see how Sickert adopted Whistler’s tonal approach to painting, which he learned preparing Whistler’s palette before sketching trips.

The later works in this room show a shift in Sickert’s approach. French artist Edgar Degas became his mentor in 1885, inspiring him to plan his compositions with preliminary drawings and to use bolder colours.

 

3. The Music Hall: Artifices of the Stage

Initially inspired by Degas’s paintings of Parisian café-concerts, Sickert’s music hall paintings catapulted his career to new heights. From a young age he was described as ‘stage-struck’ and acted professionally before becoming an artist. Sickert visited music halls almost every night and made sketches that not only captured the effects of light and movement onstage, but also the people watching in the audience. His subsequent paintings adopted unusual viewpoints while playing with colour, expressing the vibrancy of the performative atmosphere. However, critics described music halls as ‘working-class entertainments’, perceiving popular culture as an inappropriate subject for fine art.

Music halls were popular entertainment venues in the 19th and early-20th centuries. Sickert’s paintings of London, but also Paris and Dieppe, trace their development and demise – from nightly live performances to hosting the first cinematic screenings in Britain. The cinema as well as radio and music recordings became popular, leading to a decline in music hall audiences. Yet, Sickert never lost his interest in theatrical subjects and later turned his attention to other forms of popular entertainment.

 

4. Beyond Portraiture

Sickert took up portrait painting in the hope of using it to earn a regular income and to raise his profile. However, most of his portraits were not specially commissioned so did not benefit him financially. His sitters, many of them well-known personalities, show the extent of his connections within cultural circles and high society in both England and France. Sickert’s portraits depict a range of characters, such as the emaciated figure of the artist Aubrey Beardsley (1894) and the glamorous singer Elizabeth Swinton (Mrs Swinton 1905-1906).

Sickert’s informal portraits, painted in London and Venice, are perhaps closer to genre paintings than portraits. Rather than showing individuals’ characters and inner lives, Sickert painted more generic figures or ‘types’ of people, in carefully observed interiors. Often, these surroundings are equally as important as the figures in suggesting a narrative and an emotional connection between sitter and setting.

 

5A. The Urban Environment: Venice and Dieppe

In 1899 Sickert wrote: ‘I see my line. Not portraits. Picturesque work.’

Landscape paintings were among Sickert’s most successful works, especially views of Dieppe and Venice for which he found a ready market through his dealers in Paris. Sickert frequently returned to favourite painting locations such as Dieppe (where he lived between 1898 and 1905) and Venice (which he visited regularly from 1895). He repeatedly painted their buildings and streets, developing source material he had sketched on the spot into finished paintings in his studio. He often focused on the facades of two famous buildings: St Mark’s Basilica in Venice and the church of St Jacques in Dieppe, where he explored the effect of light on the architecture at different times of day. This approach of looking at the effects of shifting light probably drew inspiration from French impressionist Claude Monet’s Rouen Cathedral series. In Dieppe, Sickert remained interested in the human aspect of the urban scene, often including scenes of everyday life in the foreground of his paintings. Here he was inspired by French artist Camille Pissarro’s views of Dieppe.

 

5B. The Urban Environment: Dieppe, London and Paris

Sickert’s street scenes evolved from small formats that were relatively dark, to bigger paintings that were brighter and more colourful. He was influenced by developments in modern art such as French impressionism, the vivid colours of fauvism, and the bold outlines and symbolism of the Nabis group of French artists. Viewing these works as more commercially attractive, Sickert’s French dealers encouraged this change.

In 1902, Sickert painted a group of large-scale works for Dieppe’s Hôtel de la Plage, as well as capturing the vibrancy of Dieppe street life in other works. He only rarely painted Paris and London views, but these included several atmospheric night scenes, displayed here.

 

6. The Nude

In 1910 Sickert published an article in The New Age titled, ‘The naked and the Nude’. In Sickert’s view, academic ‘Nude’ paintings were so artificial in setting and in form, that they bore little resemblance to the naked human figure.

In the years preceding the text, he had been producing works which challenged such traditions. Inspired by French artists such as Pierre Bonnard and Edgar Degas, who aimed to connect the long-established genre of nude painting with modern urban life, Sickert painted urban working-class women in contemporary settings, presenting them as naked rather than as an idealised nude. Sickert was also interested in the aesthetic qualities afforded by painting nudes in interior settings, like the patterns created on flesh by light streaming from a window.

Sickert first exhibited his nudes in Paris in 1905, where they were well-received. But in Britain, critics strongly objected to their subject matter when they were first shown in 1911. A naked woman in a dimly-lit room, with crumpled sheets on an iron bedstead, suggested poverty and prostitution to the British press. By painting realistic female bodies in everyday interiors, Sickert created a major innovation in British paintings of the nude. His work has gone on to influence later British painters, such as Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon, in their treatment of the nude. However, in recent years, critics and viewers have asked if Sickert’s paintings objectify women, questioning the power dynamics between model and artist, and within the scenes depicted.

 

The Camden Town Murder Series

From painting a single nude, Sickert soon began to explore different ways of posing two figures in an interior. Works set in Venice and London (seen earlier in this room) depict semi-naked and clothed women in conversation, seated on a bed. Sickert then developed a series of paintings depicting a clothed man and naked woman. He posed his models in the same dingy rooms in Camden Town where he had painted his nudes, using many of the same props such as the iron bedstead. These paintings have become known as the Camden Town Murder series.

The Camden Town Murder was the name given to a real event: the murder of Emily Dimmock in Camden in 1907. The murder attracted huge press attention. Sickert took advantage of the interest and controversy raised by giving some of his paintings titles that allude to the murder. He also reworked them and gave them alternative titles. This allowed the viewer to imagine different narratives and relationships between the figures. Sickert was interested in the emotional connection between the figures in their different configurations, rather than any kind of illustration of Dimmock’s murder. The series has long intrigued audiences because of the ambiguity between title and subject matter. For Sickert, these works furthered his exploration of narrative painting. However, some people are critical of the potential for violence they see within the scenes.

 

Sickert’s Models

Like most artists of his generation, Sickert worked with models, some of whom would become close friends or lovers. More often, the relationship was professional, with the model being paid for their work. We know the identity of some of his models: Augustine Villain in Dieppe, Carolina d’Acqua and La Giuseppina in Venice, Blanche and Adeline in Paris, Hubby and Marie in London. Others are unknown.

 

7. Modern Conversation Pieces

Sickert’s fascination with narrative painting led to him radically reinventing the ‘conversation piece’. These group portraits in informal settings were originally popularised by William Hogarth and other 18th-century British artists. Also drawing on contemporary French paintings of figures in interiors, Sickert created a uniquely British style for the 20th century. Arranging stage sets in his studio, Sickert aimed to depict everyday life in the modern city. He painted figures showing conflicting emotions, appearing to be in tense relationships, heightened by claustrophobic environments. The same subject matter appears in multiple paintings, with alternating combinations of figures and different titles. Sickert leaves the narratives behind such works unfixed and open for us to interpret – he felt their visual content and materiality were more important than written descriptions.

 

8. Transposition: The Final Years

From his initial interest in music halls, Sickert’s fascination with popular culture continued throughout the 1930s. He began to paint on a larger scale and use a brighter colour palette. Scenes from the theatre and stories in the popular press dominated his output. He would use black and white photographs as visual sources, which he translated into vivid colour on the canvas. Sickert was fascinated by how black and white photography’s flattened perspectives and stark tonal contrasts resulted in simplified forms. He retained these elements, creating almost abstract effects in his finished paintings.

Sickert also produced a series of works based on Victorian engravings, which he entitled ‘Echoes’. In contrast, his theatrical scenes were based on photographs taken himself or by his assistants during rehearsals, or on press cuttings. Here, he featured his favourite performers, such as Peggy Ashcroft and Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, whom he painted repeatedly. He also used press-cuttings as the source for images of royalty or historic events such as Amelia Earhart’s solo flight across the Atlantic in May 1932. Sickert’s use of photography is now recognised as a significant precursor of subsequent developments in art. Pop art’s transposition of found popular images is indebted to Sickert, as is the use of photography as source material by late 20th-century artists, such as Francis Bacon.

Text from the Tate Britain website

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Trapeze' 1920

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Trapeze
1920
Oil on canvas
The Syndics of the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge
© Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'L'Hôtel Royal, Dieppe' 1894

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
L’Hôtel Royal, Dieppe
1894
Oil on canvas
Sheffield Museums Trust

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Les Arcades et La Darse' c. 1898

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Les Arcades et La Darse
c. 1898
Oil paint on canvas
Object: 508 × 670 mm
Frame: 680 × 790 × 90 mm
Fondation Bemberg, Toulouse

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at left, Rowlandson House – Sunset 1910-1911 below; at second left, The Garden of Love or Lainey’s Garden c. 1927-1931 below; at third left, Queens Road Station, Bayswater c. 1916 below; at fourth right, Maple Street, London c. 1915-1923 below; at third right, O Nuit d’Amour 1922 below; at second right, Celebrations, Dieppe 1914 below; and at right, Café Suisse, Dieppe 1914 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Rowlandson House – Sunset' 1910-1911

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Rowlandson House – Sunset
1910-1911
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 610 × 502 mm
Frame: 805 × 707 × 67 mm
Tate
Bequeathed by Lady Henry Cavendish-Bentinck 1940

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Garden of Love or Lainey's Garden' c. 1927-1931

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Garden of Love or Lainey’s Garden
c. 1927-1931
Oil on canvas
81.9 x 61.6cm
The Fitzwilliam Museum
Gift from J. Howard Bliss, 1945

 

 

Sickest met English artist Thérèse Lessore in January 1914, when she was elected to the London Group (a society of artists). They married in Margate on 4 June, 1926 and soon after moved to Brighton. In 1927, Sickert and Lessore return to London and settled at Southey Villa, Quandrant Road, near Essex Road in Islington – the likely location of this painting. Thérèse, or ‘Lainey’ (as Sickert liked to call her) tends to her garden, an intimate space surrounded by London’s urban landscape. The road no longer exists but in its place stands a community centre named after Sickert.

Wall text

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Queens Road Station, Bayswater' c. 1916

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Queens Road Station, Bayswater
c. 1916
Oil on canvas
62.3 x 73cm
The Courtauld, London (Samuel Courtauld Trust)
Bequeathed by Roger Eliot Fry, 1935

 

 

Queens Road station (now Bayswater station) was one of the first underground stations in London. This painting shows a view across the tracks to a platform where a man is seated in a recess. The diamond-shaped platform sign was a short-lived prototype of the famous bar and circle design, introduced shortly after Sickert completed the canvas. The name ‘Whiteley’s’ refers to the well-known department store just north of the station. For contemporaries, Whiteley’s was synonymous with the sensational murder of the store’s founder in 1907. Sickert’s arrangement of the station’s signs and advertisements into patterns of form and colour particularly appealed to Roger Fry who bought this painting in 1919 for his London home.

Text from the Art UK website

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Maple Street, London' c. 1915-1923

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Maple Street, London
c. 1915-1923
Oil on canvas
76.8cm (30.2 in) x 51.1cm (20.1 in)
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Gift of Emma Swan Hall, 1998
CC0 1.0

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'O Nuit d'Amour' 1922

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
O Nuit d’Amour
1922
Oil on canvas
90.2 x 69.8cm
Manchester Art Gallery
purchased at Christie’s, 1988

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Celebrations, Dieppe' 1914

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Celebrations, Dieppe
1914
Oil on canvas
91.4 x 61cm

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Café Suisse, Dieppe' 1914

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Café Suisse, Dieppe
1914
Oil on canvas

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at left, Easter c. 1928 below; at second left, Rowlandson House – Sunset 1910-1911; at third left, The Garden of Love or Lainey’s Garden c. 1927-1931

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Easter' c. 1928

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Easter
c. 1928
Oil on canvas
© National Museums NI, Ulster Museum Collection

 

 

Despite his association with the Camden Town Group of artists, who took their subjects from the streets of the London district, Sickert rarely depicted the streets of London itself. Two examples displayed here are Maple Street, which depicts a street in the Fitzrovia area, and Easter, which depicts Dawson Brothers, a linen-drapers’ shop on City Road close to Old Street tube station. The shop was in business from the 1940s until the late 20th century. Sickest has painted the almost deserted street at night, illuminated by a window display of Easter bonnets.

Wall text

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at Bathers, Dieppe 1902 below; at second left, Le Grand Duquesne, Dieppe 1902 below; at third right, The Fair at Night c. 1902-1903 below; and at right, Easter c. 1928 above

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at Bathers, Dieppe 1902 below; at second left, Le Grand Duquesne, Dieppe 1902 below; and at right, The Fair at Night c. 1902-1903 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Bathers, Dieppe' 1902

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Bathers, Dieppe
1902
Oil on canvas
131.4 x 104.5cm
Walker Art Gallery, purchased 1935

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Le Grand Duquesne, Dieppe' 1902

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Le Grand Duquesne, Dieppe
1902
Oil on canvas
Manchester Art Gallery
Purchased from the Lefevre Galleries, 1935

 

 

In this work Sickert depicts a statue of Dieppe’s celebrated hero Admiral Abraham Duquesne in the Place Nationale by foreshortening and silhouetting of the statue against the sky which gives it a dramatic presence.

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Fair at Night' c. 1902-1903

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Fair at Night
c. 1902-1903
Oil on canvas
129.5 x 97.2cm
Rochdale Art Gallery

 

 

The Fair at Night is an early example of Sickert’s use of especially vibrant colour, more prominent in his later work. The muted background is enriched with acidic greens, lurid yellows and vivid scarlets. Sickert uses broad, sweeping brushstrokes to create a dynamic evocation of the local fair in Dieppe.

Wall text

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Café des Tribunaux, Dieppe' c. 1890

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Café des Tribunaux, Dieppe
c. 1890
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 603 × 730 mm
Frame: 830 × 955 × 108 mm
Tate
Presented by Miss Sylvia Gosse 1917

 

 

In the 1890s Sickert spent most of his summers at the French port of Dieppe, and from 1896 to 1905 he lived there permanently. At that time it was popular with British artists as well as being a fashionable holiday resort for English people as indicated by a barber’s sign in English on the right. The Café des Tribunaux was at a focal point of the town, where two roads converge, and was frequented by British visitors. Both French realist and Impressionist tendencies are present in the painting.

Tate Gallery label, November 2016

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at left, The Façade of San Marco, Venice 1896-1897 below; at second left, St Mark’s, Venice 1896 below; at second right, The Lion of St Mark c. 1895-1896 below; and at right, The Façade of St Jacques, Dieppe 1902 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Lion of St Mark' c. 1895-1896

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Lion of St Mark
c. 1895-1896
Oil on canvas
89.8 x 90.2cm
The Fitzwilliam Museum

 

 

Sickert fills the whole painting with the Lion of St Mark set against one side of the Doge’s Palace behind. Most of the painting is in shadow and the perspective flattened with just a small section of the Doge’s Palace in strong sunlight.

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Façade of St Jacques, Dieppe' 1902

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Façade of St Jacques, Dieppe
1902
Oil on canvas
Private collection

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at second left, The Façade of San Marco, Venice 1896-1897 below; and at second right, St Mark’s, Venice 1896 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Façade of San Marco, Venice' 1896-1897

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Façade of San Marco, Venice
1896-1897
Oil on canvas
90 x 120cm
National Trust, Coleton Fishacre

 

 

Venice occupies an important position in the development of Sickert’s development as an artist. He first visited the Italian city in 1894 in his mid-thirties, then made subsequent trips to paint there in 1895-1896, 1900, 1901, 1903-1904 and 1905. He called it ‘the loveliest city in the world’.

In 1895 Sickert had visited an exhibition of Monet’s paintings of Rouen Cathedral and they impressed him so much that in Venice he too took a cathedral, San Marco, and executed a series of paintings of it from the same position.

His San Marco facade series differed however in that whilst for Monet everything was on the changing effects of light on the facade, Sickert focussed on the architectural forms. He captured all the details on carefully gridded preparatory drawings, transferred these to each painting and then added a dominant light and colour effect from one time during the day.

Text from the Art UK website

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'St Mark's, Venice (Pax Tibi Marce Evangelista Meus)' 1896

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
St Mark’s, Venice (Pax Tibi Marce Evangelista Meus)
1896
Oil on canvas
90.8 x 120 cm
Tate

 

 

The skies are rendered in a uniform colour, and the gold from the four mosaics and crosses contrasts markedly with the sombre, shadowed plaza in front of the cathedral, where incidental figures are not at first noticed walking by.

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Horses of St Mark's, Venice' 1901-1906

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Horses of St Mark’s, Venice
c. 1901-1906
Oil on canvas
53 x 44cm
Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives

 

 

The Horses of St Mark’s are a set of Byzantine bronze statues of four horses, originally part of a monument depicting a quadriga (a four-horse carriage used for chariot racing). Whilst they give the painting its title, they were of secondary importance for Sickert, and he was much more interested in the arch above them and the gold decoration under different light.

 

 

 

Five Things to Know about Walter Sickert

 

1. He initially trained as an actor

Born in Munich to an artist father, he moved to England at eight years old. Before taking up a career as a painter, Walter Sickert’s focus was becoming an actor, having been described as ‘stage-struck’ from an early age. He appeared in a number of productions from Henry VII and The Lady of Lyons to Othello and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

When he decided to become an artist, his fascination with theatrical subjects continued throughout his career in both paintings and drawings. From his love of music halls to staging various setups for his paintings, Sickert also adopted a variety of personas over the years to continually reinvent himself including the role of biblical characters such as Lazarus when making self-portraits.

 

2. He attempted things no artist had tried before

Innovative and radical with both his painting techniques and approach to subject matter, he led key avant-garde groups of artists in the early 20th century, from the London Impressionists to the Camden Town Group. He pushed boundaries with his frequently provocative work by crafting his nude paintings, for example, in domestic, everyday settings, determined to capture society as he saw it at the time.

Later, he would take inspiration for his painting based on news photographs and popular culture. This included images of Amelia Earhart’s solo flight across the Atlantic and Leslie Banks and Edith Evans in the production of The Taming of the Shrew – he was also the first person to paint a screened film. Sickert was extremely interested in the popular press and used stories in newspapers to create narratives in his paintings. This included celebrities from King Edward VIII to Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies and Ira Aldridge. This exciting approach to photography saw him known as a precursor to Pop Art.

 

3. Sickert was not Jack the Ripper

Sickert was fascinated by the popular press and sensational stories including Jack the Ripper and the Whitechapel murders. Because of this, and his realistic paintings of everyday life, he has emerged in recent years as one of several suspects related to the case.

There is no evidence to suggest that Sickert was involved in the murders despite the promotion of a theory by American crime writer Patricia Cornwell. The identity of Jack the Ripper has never been determined and there is no evidence to link Sickert to the murders.

In recent years, paper analysis has suggested links between paper used by Sickert for personal correspondence and paper used in some of the hoax letters sent to the police and press claiming to be from Jack the Ripper. The most that can be said is that if Sickert did write some of these hoax letters it was consistent with his propensity to play with different identities and follow sensational stories in the popular press.

The Walter Sickert exhibition at Tate Britain does not consider this topic, however an essay in the exhibition catalogue investigates the evidence of the letters.

 

4. He has notable artistic links to France

His work was particularly important for links between Britain and France. He spent a great deal of his working life in France and had a long history of exhibiting in both London and Paris. He also has a significant connection to Dieppe, having lived there for a time – it was an important location for Sickert, particularly in the early days of his career, painting the location frequently when he was an apprentice in James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s art studio. During his time in France, he also became friends with Edgar Degas who influenced Sickert’s practice and choice of subject matter.

In Britain, he was a founder member of the New English Art Club, formed as a French-influenced alternative to the Royal Academy. He also inspired groups of younger artists interested in the development of post-impressionist ideas, such as Spencer Gore, Harold Gilman, and others who formed the Camden Town Group.

 

5. He helped shape modern British Art as we know it

Sickert began his career in 1882 as an apprentice in James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s studio, assisting initially with printing etching plates of urban environments and cities. Degas was another great influence in his artistic life, but early on, he began to establish himself as his own artist. The rest is history: Sickert went on to revolutionise the traditional genres of painting thanks to his fascination with alternating narratives – this helped change the course of British art. Artists who came after Sickert, from Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye were all influenced by his work.

In his final years, he reinvented himself professionally and artistically. From his career beginnings as an actor to apprentice, painter, teacher and critic, he remains a celebrated artist whose progressive ideas in painting make him as relevant and influential today as he was in his own time.

Text from the Tate Britain website

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Off to the Pub' 1911

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Off to the Pub
1911
Oil paint on canvas
508 x 406 mm

 

 

This painting shows the figure of a man in the act of leaving a tawdry mustard and brown interior, presumably for the pub, as given in the title. A woman seen in profile seated stoically appears to stare vacantly after him, and wears the flat straw hat of the costermonger, signifying her stereotypically grim urban working class experience. At the time, Sickert was engaged in capturing pairs of figures arranged variously within domestic settings to produce emotional or psychological tension, as in the melodramatic crisis portrayed here, which culminated a few years later in Ennui c. 1914 [below]

Text from the Tate website

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Ennui' c. 1914

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Ennui
c. 1914
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1524 × 1124 mm
Frame: 1741 × 1340 × 110 mm
Tate
Presented by the Contemporary Art Society 1924

 

 

The title of this painting means ‘boredom’ in French. Sickert suggests the strained relationship between the figures by their lack of communication. Despite being close together, the man and woman face in opposite directions, staring off into space. They appear almost trapped in their surroundings. The furnishings reinforce the theme, in particular the bell jar containing stuffed birds, suggesting a suffocating environment. Sickert’s works give us no moral or narrative certainty. He leaves it up to us to interpret the image.

Gallery label, August 2020

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Aubrey Beardsley' 1894

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Aubrey Beardsley
1894
Tempera on canvas
Support: 762 × 311 mm
Frame: 1010 × 553 × 61 mm
Tate
Purchased with assistance from the Art Fund 1932

 

 

It is thought that this painting shows the artist Aubrey Beardsley walking through Hampstead Church graveyard. He had been attending the unveiling of a memorial to the Romantic poet John Keats. At this time Beardsley was also living with tuberculosis, the disease which had killed Keats. Though elegantly dressed, Beardsley’s figure appears emaciated. The subdued background adds to the poignancy of the image; Beardsley died four years later. The painting was published in the journal Yellow Book when Beardsley was art editor.

Tate Gallery label, November 2021

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'George Moore' 1890-1891

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
George Moore
1890-1891
Oil on canvas
Tate

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Mrs Swinton' c. 1905-1906

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Mrs Swinton
c. 1905-1906
Oil paint on canvas
Object: 762 × 635 mm
Frame: 903 × 775 × 65 mm
The Syndics of the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Victor Lecourt' 1922-1924

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Victor Lecourt
1922-1924
Oil paint on canvas
Object: 813 × 605 mm
Frame: 995 × 788 × 77 mm
Manchester Art Gallery
George Beatson Blair bequest, 1941

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Baccarat' 1920

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Baccarat
1920
Oil paint on canvas
Object: 552 × 457 mm
Frame: 700 × 620 × 80 mm
Private collection c/o Grant Ford Limited

 

 

Sickert and Photography

Rebecca Daniels on how Walter Sickert deftly combined art history and photography in his paintings

While lecturing at the Thanet School of Art in November 1934, Walter Sickert observed that the artist ‘Carpaccio used to put in the background of his compositions exact copies of the architecture that was current in his day, such things as one sees nowadays in such papers as the Mirror and the Sketch‘. This was part of an impassioned plea that the art of the past was still very relevant to the present. A fortnight later Sickert sourced a photograph of his ‘adored’ Peggy Ashcroft, the formidable British actress, from the pages of The Radio Times. It shows Ashcroft on holiday, standing on the Accademia Bridge in Venice, a month before her wedding to the theatre director Theodore Kominsarjevsky.

Sickert’s sharp eye perceived that this casual ‘holiday snap’ had strong affinities with the compositions of Venetian Renaissance art. The actress, captured in profile and leaning against a ledge, is reminiscent of Bellini and the background alludes to Carpaccio. Yet the colours and technique Sickert then deployed in his painting Variation on Peggy 1934-1935 [below] are uncompromisingly modern. The vibrant but limited palette seems to refer to colours used in the four-colour printing process as seen in an advertisement on the back of the same edition of The Radio Times (16 November 1934). Sickert commented, in April 1933, that colour reproduction was ‘perpetually improving’. Variation on Peggy is an example of his deliberately unnerving juxtaposition between past and present.

The painter pioneered the use of photographs by artists, and had been campaigning since the 1890s that this secret practice should be exposed. He daringly advertised his own use of photographs in his art criticism and in inscriptions on the canvas itself. However, he was adamant that they were only a preliminary aid, the starting point in the creative process to which the artist must impose his own stamp of originality. He compared this process with acting: ‘We have to do with the subject something similar to what is done by an actor with a role in the theatre.’

Sickert had been an actor, and in 1880 had trod the boards at Sadler’s Wells. During the 1930s he became involved with the theatre again, donating the proceeds of the sale of his The Raising of Lazarus c. 1929-1932 [below] to the struggling venue. He also befriended several leading contemporary actors and actresses, John Gielgud (whose father he had known), Gwen Ffrangçon-Davies (the subject of his magisterial Miss Gwen Ffrangçon-Davies as Isabella of France 1932 [below]) and Ashcroft. His plea to art students found resonance with issues affecting contemporary theatre, which was actively trying to modernise the presentation of classic plays, particularly Shakespeare. While theatre companies sought to achieve this through changing Shakespeare’s language, Sickert focused on presenting paintings of the theatre, often of Shakespearean subjects, which had been obviously sourced from photographs, either from newspapers or taken for the artist by press photographers who would attend matinees with him.

This desire to combine aspects of the past and present, photography and colour seems very relevant to contemporary art practice. For example, Clare Woods has used Sickert’s Juliet and Her Nurse 1935-1936, as well as the shocking contemporary press photograph of Davinia Turrell holding a burns mask to her face after she was caught in the 7/7 London bombings, as sources for her painting Silent Suzan 2014. Woods’s powerful work is just the sort of juxtaposition that Sickert was encouraging artists to explore.

Text from the Tate Britain website

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Variation on Peggy' 1934-1935

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Variation on Peggy
1934-1935
Oil paint on canvas
578 × 718 mm
Frame: 807 × 941 × 96 mm
Tate
Bequeathed by Dame Peggy Ashcroft 1992

 

 

Sickert had used photographs as source material since the 1890s, but it was not until the 1930s that their use became a routine part of his practice. The image for Variation on Peggy [above] was taken from a black and white photograph of Peggy Ashcroft (1907-1991), the classical actress, on holiday in Venice, which was published in the Radio Times. She is seen against the parapet wall of the Accademia Bridge with the Grand Canal behind, and the domes of the Church of Santa Maria della Salute visible above her head.

The loose handling of paint is typical of Sickert’s late paintings. Pigment is brushed in roughly with little attention to the minutiae of naturalistic detail, even in sections that would traditionally warrant such attention such as the sitter’s face, and in many areas patches of canvas show through the lattice of coloured marks. In the lower half the squaring-up lines used to facilitate the transfer of the photographic image onto the canvas are clearly visible. Reference to the mechanical procedure of picture making belies the sense of immediacy suggested by the carefree application of paint.

Even in the context of the lightened palette of Sickert’s late work, the colours in Variation on Peggy are exceptional both in their tone and their eccentricity. Subtle modulations of pale chalky blue in the sky continue down through parts of the church and surrounding buildings to the canal. The blue expanse of water is interspersed with touches of green representing boats and piers, and with large passages of green and pink suggesting the reflections and shadows of buildings. The details of the buildings themselves are shown in pink, green and dark brown, and rendered in the same cursory manner as the rest of the painting. The figure of Ashcroft is modelled in various shades of green: the pale green of her dress blends with the warmer green of her face and neck, and the rich, deep green of her hair. Her profile is highlighted by the contrast between the blue water and the green of her face and further accentuated by the dark outline of her forehead, nose, lips and chin. By contrast, the right side of the figure blends more harmoniously with its predominantly pink and green background.

Though the theatre had been an important subject matter in Sickert’s work since the late 1880s, it was only in the mid 1920s that he began to paint large scale portraits of leading actors and actresses on and off the stage. Ashcroft’s performance next to Paul Robeson in Ellen Van Volkenburg’s 1930 production of Othello had brought the actress to prominence. Variation on Peggy is one of at least fifteen paintings by Sickert of her.

Toby Treves. “Walter Richard Sickert: Variation on Peggy,” on the Tate website May 2000 [Online] Cited 10/05/2022

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Miss Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies as Isabella of France' 1932

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Miss Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies as Isabella of France
1932
Oil paint on canvas
Tate
Presented by the National Art Collections Fund, the Contemporary Art Society and Frank C. Stoop through the Contemporary Art Society 1932

 

 

This large, elongated canvas is dominated by the radiant figure of the actress Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, waiting offstage during a rehearsal of the play Edward II by Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593). She wears the Elizabethan costume, pearls and emerald ring of the character of Queen Isabella of France. The inscription ‘La Louve’, or ‘she-wolf’, alludes to Isabella’s ruthlessness. Although Ffrangcon-Davies and Sickert were close friends at the time it was painted, she did not sit for the portrait, which was made from a photograph taken by a professional photographer named Bertram Park.

 

Sickert loved the theatre and became a friend of the actress Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies after writing her a fan letter in 1932. This painting shows her in the role of Queen Isabella of France in Christopher Marlowe’s 16th-century play Edward II. The name ‘La Louve’ means ‘she-wolf’, a hostile title given to the historical Isabella. The production had taken place nine years earlier, and Sickert painted this picture from a small photograph, taken by Bertram Park, of the actress on stage. The painting was an immediate success and the Daily Mail described it as ‘Mr Sickert’s Best Work’.

Tate Gallery label, September 2016

 

Subject and style

Inevitably, Sickert also conceived a desire to paint a more memorable individual portrait of Ffrangcon-Davies, but, as he explained to her, he had no desire for her to pose or sit for him.7 Instead, he selected an image from her own album of publicity photographs, showing her as Queen Isabella of France in the play Edward II (published 1594) by Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593). Ffrangcon-Davies had performed the role in a Phoenix Society production at the Regent and Court Theatres in 1923. The photograph was apparently a quick snapshot taken during a dress rehearsal while the actress was waiting in the wings for her stage entrance. The whereabouts of the photograph is now unknown (probably because Sickert never returned it to Ffrangcon-Davies after borrowing it from her album). The photographer, Bertram Park, was the husband of Yvonne Gregory, also a photographer who took many official shots of the actress. Sickert scaled up the image onto a large canvas (8 x 3 feet) and added the inscription ‘Bertram Park phot.’, acknowledging the source for the image. He also added the title ‘La Louve’ (The She-Wolf) along the bottom of the painting, referring to the ruthless character of Queen Isabella who, with her lover Roger Mortimer, deposed and murdered her husband, Edward II, with both perpetrators described in the play as wolves.

In 1923, when she took on the role of Isabella, Ffrangcon-Davies was still making a name for herself. She had achieved a breakthrough with her highly acclaimed performance in The Immortal Hour (1922), but was still primarily known as a singer and was eager to extend her acting repertoire. Isabella in Edward II was one of her first major classical roles, but reviews of her performance were mixed. The critic in the Outlook wrote: ‘Miss Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies was not at all good as Queen Isabella: her realistic sobs and groans were hopelessly out of the proper key.’8 However, the New Statesman was more impressed:

One figure stands out, that of the Queen. I have never seen Miss Ffrangcon-Davies act before and was immensely impressed by the dignity of her performance. She has excellent gesture, a musical voice, and she looked most graceful and finished. But better by far than this she spoke intelligently, as if she realised the meaning and the measure of the words she was speaking. While she was acting one could remember how supremely Marlowe could write.9

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The Saturday Review reported that ‘The queen of Miss Ffrangcon-Davies was a beautifully firm piece of work and as good to look upon as a portrait of the Flemish school’.10 Nine years later Sickert evidently also relished the aesthetic quality of the picture of the actress in her elaborate Elizabethan costume, complete with pearl necklaces and a large emerald ring. Ffrangcon-Davies recalled that the dress, which was designed by Grace Lovat-Fraser, was made of gold lamé and that her hair had also been painted gold to match the outfit. The full skirt was flat at the front and back but wide at the sides. Sickert had not seen the play himself and the source photograph upon which the painting was based was a black and white image, so he was required to imagine his own colour scheme for the dress.

Sickert’s painting technique was well established during the 1930s and evidence of the various stages of his regimen is clearly visible in Miss Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies as Isabella of France. The artist first transferred the image from the photograph to the canvas using the squaring-up method. The drawn grid of squares can still clearly be seen within the skirt and body of the dress. The composition was then sketched in using a pink underlayer, in varying degrees of depth. A darker tone corresponds to areas of shadow while a lighter tone picks out the highlights. In many areas patches of the underdrawing have been left as an integral part of the final painting. Sickert usually left this first layer to dry for at least a month,11 and it was possibly during this stage in the process that Ffrangcon-Davies dined with the Sickerts at their home on 21 July 1932. She recorded in her diary that the painting was well underway and that Sickert had apparently greatly alarmed his wife, Thérèse Lessore, by returning from the studio with the exhortation, ‘Thank God Gwen’s dry and on the operating table’.12 The lettering appears to have been added shortly after this since a letter of 25 July informed Ffrangcon-Davies that the artist had spent ‘a lovely day with the she-wolf. Got the lettering exactly the right place and right size.’13 In the later stages of the process Sickert added the local colouring for the figure over the bone-dry underpainting. Broadly applied white/cream brushstrokes constitute the texture of the dress while brown and black add definition to the face and torso. Finally, small touches of red and green were added to give the figure some depth and minimal warmth. Sickert was working on the canvas right up until it went on display at the Wilson Galleries in early September 1932. When the critic R.R. Tatlock first saw it at the exhibition he reported that the pigment was still wet.14

 

Reception

Miss Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies was well received by the critics who raved over both its technical qualities and its success as a portrait. Frank Rutter described the limited colour palette as a ‘tour-de-force’, and declared that Sickert had ‘never shown his wonderful mastery of light and shade more completely and brilliantly than in this painting’.15 Similarly Tatlock, writing in the Daily Telegraph, considered it the ‘high water mark’ of the artist’s achievements, ‘better aesthetically than anything achieved or likely to be achieved by any other living artist’.16 He praised the rich painterly quality of the brushwork and the dynamism of the composition. The Times was equally expansive:

To have given the portrait so genuinely monumental a composition, without the slightest sign that it is a miniature greatly enlarged in size, is a most remarkable achievement. It is this grand and statuesque quality in the figure which strikes one immediately … The handling of the paint is all that we expect of Mr Sickert, and perhaps even more free and brilliant than usual. The colour is equally beautiful, the prevailing brown-pink being quickened with one single note of bright green, and the dull slate black background – perhaps the photograph suggested this – making an unexpected, almost eccentric, but still a successful contrast with the play of colour on the dress.17

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Although Sickert had depicted a performance from nine years before, there was a sense of topicality about the work that contributed to its popularity. Ffrangcon-Davies was a contemporary star of the stage, most famous for her performance as Juliet to John Gielgud’s Romeo. At the same time as her portrait was on display in St James’s she was appearing at the Wyndham’s Theatre in nearby Charing Cross in her latest play, The Way to the Stars. The Morning Post attributed at least some of the painting’s success to the genius of the subject rather than the artist: ‘The poise of the figure has a Tintoretto like monumentality, but the face and eyes suggest the latent powers of expression that make her supreme on the stage.’18 The Western Morning News saw Sickert as resurrecting the grand tradition of portraits of London thespians made famous by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792).19 The large scale of the picture, the dramatic full-length figure, and the focus on a dominant, scheming literary female character may also have a visual precedent in John Singer Sargent’s painting, Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth 1889 (Tate N02053, fig.2). Miss Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies marked a revival in Sickert’s interest in the stage and over the next ten years he painted a number of actors and actresses in character including Edith Evans, Fabia Drake, Paul Robeson, Leslie Banks, Sir Nigel Playfair, Johnstone Forbes-Robertson, Valerie Tudor and William Fox and Peggy Ashcroft (see Tate T06601).

 

Photographic source

Amidst the glowing reviews in the newspapers, the Manchester Evening News also published an interview with Ffrangcon-Davies concerning the circumstances of the picture.20 In the article, entitled ‘A Portrait I Never Sat For’, the actress emphasised that the painting was entirely based upon a photographic source. Sickert’s own ready confirmation of the fact was also quoted in a typically teasing statement:

I have made it quite clear by painting ‘Bertram Park Photo’ in a corner of the canvas that the portrait was copied from a photograph. The photographer has done all the ground work for me. He has caught the life and movement of the pose. So he deserves his name in a prominent position. Painting a portrait is like catching a butterfly. I have painted portraits with my subject before me. But it is seldom absolutely satisfactory. Your sitter, particularly if she is a lady, dislikes keeping regular appointments. She is often late. The artist resents his time being wasted. When his subject does arrive she finds it difficult to sit perfectly still for long intervals. Her irritation shows in her face. That expression very often steals into the portrait. I find a document from which to copy a satisfactory way of painting a portrait.21

.
Comparison of the painting with the original photograph (as reproduced in Vogue, December 1923)22 demonstrates Sickert’s ability to reproduce faithfully a found image and yet also subtly alter the visual emphasis of that image to achieve a new aesthetic effect. In this instance he reduced the background space surrounding the actress, particularly on the right-hand side where the pictorial edge truncates the figure of the queen. She therefore appears to dominate utterly the space she inhabits. The instantaneous, innocuous quality of Park’s photograph of Ffrangcon-Davies self-consciously waiting in the wings is replaced in the painting by a sense of dramatic monumentality and suspense. The actress seems to occupy the character of the scheming queen wholly and her white face and immense dark eyes appear skull-like and ghostly against the darkness of the background. She looks imperious and dangerous, yet beautiful and awe-inspiring. As the art historian David Peters Corbett has pointed out, Sickert’s transformation of the candid neutrality of the photograph into the high tension and sagacity of the painting asserts unequivocal artistic control over an image, which he freely admits was not of his making.23 Sickert’s carefully inserted painted allusion to the role of the photographer Bertram Park is ultimately offset, and even countermanded, by the visibility of his own lines of squaring-up within the figure of the actress. Some of these lines even appear to have been strengthened over the top of the preceding painted layers thereby making transparent the artist’s creative ownership of the image.

Sickert’s use of images derived from photographs has drawn both condemnation and praise from contemporary and subsequent commentators. Despite the critical success of Miss Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies as Isabella of France other paintings based upon photographic sources attracted frequent criticism (see, for example, Miss Earhart’s Arrival, Tate T03360). The appropriation of found images and the imitative element of the process represented, to some, evidence of Sickert’s declining creative faculties. Even those whom Sickert counted as friends struggled with the artistic credibility of his later works. The painter William Rothenstein, for example, wrote in his memoirs that ‘the enlargements he [Sickert] makes from photographs of his sitters, of actors and actresses especially, are scarcely worthy of him or of his subjects’.24 He complained: ‘Occasionally one is asked to paint a posthumous portrait from photographs: to me, always an unattractive task. But Sickert delights in painting posthumous presentments of the living!’25 D.S. MacColl similarly thought that Sickert’s photograph-based paintings ought ‘not to be remembered against him’.26 In more recent years, however, the practice has been reinterpreted as a highly original artistic approach, prophetic of the celebrated photograph-based works by such painters as Francis Bacon and Andy Warhol.27

Sickert once said that photography was like alcohol: it should only be used by someone who could do without it.28 His paintings based upon photographic sources are neither artistically inferior nor inherently original. Many artists used photographs as a visual aid to painting, although few admitted to it as openly and readily as Sickert. Throughout his career he struggled with the quest for technical solutions to the problems of making art. He believed he had found the answer to painting by around 1915 and continued to try and persuade artists to follow his scheme throughout his life. In 1934 he lectured to a group of art students: ‘I am going to tell you in about ten minutes of a quarter of hour how to paint and what painting consists of … You simply use materials which you can buy anywhere and if you know how to use them and use them properly it is very simple.’29 However, he continued to struggle with capturing the essence of a subject in line, through drawing, for the rest of his life. His use of photographs as a compositional and structural basis for painting was a natural progression from his previous reliance on drawings, or as the art historian Rebecca Daniels has described it, a modernisation of the process of sketching.30 He believed that the snapshot photograph captured the same essence of a sitter’s appearance and character as the rapid sketching technique he had endorsed until then. He summarised his opinions in an article of 1929:

A photograph is the most precious document obtainable by a sculptor, a painter, or a draughtsman. Canaletto based his work on tracings made with the camera lucida. Turner’s studio was crammed with negatives. Moreau-Néalton’s biography of Millet contains documentary evidence that Millet found photographs of use. Degas took photographs. Lenbach photographed his sitters. To forbid the artist the use of available documents of which the photograph is the most valuable, is to deny to a historian the study of contemporary shorthand reports. The facts remain at the disposition of the artist. I am for the lean ‘war’ horse.31

.
The precedent for using photographs in this way is apparent in the work of Sickert’s most revered mentor, Edgar Degas (1834-1917). Sickert was certainly familiar with one portrait by Degas based upon a photograph, Princess Pauline de Metternich c. 1865 (National Gallery, London, formerly Tate Gallery),32 which he praised in a catalogue essay of March 1923.33 Degas’s portrait of the wife of the Austro-Hungarian ambassador to Paris is partially based on a photograph by Eugène Disderi used by the subject as a ‘carte-de-visite’.34 In a manner that recalls Sickert’s treatment of the photograph of Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, Degas cropped the image (removing the figure of the princess’s husband) and imposed upon the composition an imagined colour scheme and decorative background. The artist has also acknowledged the photographic source of the portrait, deliberately blurring and softening the features of the sitter so that they appear indistinct, as though she has moved during the exposure. Both Sickert and Degas exploited photography as a modern form of image-making but, rather than being slavish imitators of the characteristics of the art, they used it solely as a useful tool at their disposal. They selected or ‘teased’ elements from photographs but always sought to reassert their own artistic dominance over the original source. Sickert compared this process to an actor reinterpreting a role in the theatre.35

Extract from Nicola Moorby. “Miss Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies as Isabella of France 1932,” on the Tate website September 2005 [Online] Cited 17/05/2022

 

Footnotes

7. Tate Archive TAV 564A.
8. Outlook, 24 November 1923, quoted in Rose 2003, p. 34.
9. Ralph Wright, New Statesman, November 1923, quoted in Rose 2003, p. 34.
10. Saturday Review, quoted in Rose 2003, p. 34.
11. ‘Walter Sickert’s Class: Method of Instruction’, Manchester Guardian, 31 October 1930.
12. Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, unpublished diary entry, 7 April 1932, photocopy in Tate Catalogue file.
13. Walter Sickert, transcription of letter to Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, 25 July 1932, Tate Archive.
14. R.R. Tatlock, ‘Sickert’s New Masterpiece’, Daily Telegraph, 6 September 1932.
15. Quoted in Rose 2003, p. 61.
16. Tatlock, 6 September 1932.
17. ‘A Portrait by Mr Sickert’, Times, 7 September 1932.
18. Quoted in Rose 2003, p. 61.
19. Western Morning News, 7 September 1932.
20. ‘A Portrait I Never Sat For – Miss Ffrangcon-Davies’, Manchester Evening News, 6 September 1932.
21. Ibid.
22. Reproduced in Sickert: Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy, London 1992, fig. 215, p. 310.
23. David Peters Corbett, Walter Sickert, London 2001, p. 60.
24. William Rothenstein, Since Fifty: Men and Memories, 1922-1938, London 1939, p. 276.
25. Ibid., p. 16.
26. Quoted in Richard Shone, Sickert in the Tate, exhibition catalogue, Tate Liverpool 1989, p. 13.
27. Richard Morphet, ‘The Modernity of Late Sickert’, Studio International, vol. 190, July-August 1975, p. 35.
28. Cicely Hey, Walter Sickert 1860-1942: Sketch for a Portrait, 10 February 1961, BBC Home Service, LP 26655, Side 1.
29. Walter Richard Sickert, ‘Engraving, Etching, Etc.’, Lecture at Margate School of Art, 23 November 1934, in Anna Gruetzner Robins (ed.), Walter Sickert: The Complete Writings on Art, Oxford 2000, p. 661.
30. Rebecca Daniels, ‘Richard Sickert: The Art of Photography’, in Walter Sickert: ‘drawing is the thing’, exhibition catalogue, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester 2004, p. 27.
31. Walter Richard Sickert, ‘Artists and the Camera’, Times, 15 August 1929, in Robins (ed.) 2000, p. 591.
32. Reproduced at National Gallery, London, http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/hilaire-germain-edgar-degas-princess-pauline-de-metternich, accessed March 2011.
33. Walter Richard Sickert, ‘The Sculptor of Movement’, in Exhibition of the Works in Sculpture of Edgar Degas, Leicester Galleries, London 1923, in Robins (ed.) 2000, p. 457.
34. Reproduced in David Bomford, Art in the Making: Degas, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery, London 2004, p. 62.
35. Walter Sickert, ‘Squaring up a Drawing’, Lecture at Margate School of Art, 2 November 1934, in Robins (ed.) 2000, p. 637.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at second left The Front at Hove (Turpe Senex Miles Turpe Senilis Amor) 1930 below; at second right, The Servant of Abraham 1929 below; and at right Lazarus Breaks His Fast 1927 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Front at Hove (Turpe Senex Miles Turpe Senilis Amor)' 1930

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Front at Hove (Turpe Senex Miles Turpe Senilis Amor)
1930
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 635 × 762 mm
Frame: 824 × 950 × 100 mm
Tate
Purchased 1932

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Self-Portrait. Lazarus Breaks his Fast' c. 1927

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Self-Portrait. Lazarus Breaks his Fast
c. 1927
Oil paint on canvas
152 x 121cm
Herbert Art Gallery and Museum
Purchased from the artist, 1960

 

 

This work is the first of a series of three self-portraits with biblical titles that Sickert painted in the late 1920s. Made soon after he had recovered from a serious illness, the title refers to a man who Christ raised from the dead. The composition was based on a photograph of Sickert take by his wife Thérèse Lessore. Imitating the tonal contrast of the photograph allowed Sickert to abandon line, constructing the painting from loosely painted patches of colour. Sickert was also interested in how photography could freeze a dramatic moment.

Wall text

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Servant of Abraham' 1929

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Servant of Abraham
1929
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 610 × 508 mm
Frame: 815 × 717 × 78 mm
Tate. Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1959

 

 

In contrast to the unkempt and vulnerable figure in Lazarus Breaks his Fast, displayed nearby, here Sickert presents himself as a powerful biblical figure. Although the picture is relatively small, the artist’s head is larger than life-size. He appears to loom over the viewer, evoking a forceful presence. The dramatic framing can be compared to modern form of image-making such as photography and cinematography. Sicker imagined the work as part of a larger wall-painting stating, ‘We cannot well have pictures on a large scale nowadays, but we can have small fragments of pictures on a colossal scale’.

Wall text

 

This is, in fact, a self-portrait. Sickert painted himself many times, and during the 1920s he sometimes depicted himself as a biblical figure. He made this at the age of sixty-nine, working from a squared-up photograph which had been taken by his third wife, Thérèse Lessore. He intended that it should look like part of a larger wall-painting and observed, ‘We cannot well have pictures on a large scale nowadays, but we can have small fragments of pictures on a colossal scale’. Abraham was an Old Testament patriarch, but it is not known why Sickert chose this title, or why he felt it applicable to himself.

Gallery label, August 2004

 

Thérèse Lessore photograph of Walter Sickert

 

Thérèse Lessore photograph of Walter Sickert

 

 

Walter Richard Sickert was an English painter and printmaker who was a member of the Camden Town Group in London. He was an important influence on distinctively British styles of avant-garde art in the 20th century.

Sickert was a cosmopolitan and eccentric who often favoured ordinary people and urban scenes as his subjects. His work also included portraits of well-known personalities and images derived from press photographs. He is considered a prominent figure in the transition from Impressionism to Modernism.

Sickert was born in Munich, Germany on 31 May 1860, the eldest son of Oswald Sickert, a Danish-German artist, and his wife, Eleanor Louisa Henry, who was an illegitimate daughter of the British astronomer Richard Sheepshanks. In 1868, following the German annexation of Schleswig-Holstein, the family settled in Britain, where Oswald’s work had been recommended by Freiherrin Rebecca von Kreusser to Ralph Nicholson Wornum, who was Keeper of the National Gallery at the time. The family obtained British nationality. The young Sickert was sent to University College School from 1870 to 1871, before transferring to King’s College School, where he studied until the age of 18. Though he was the son and grandson of painters, he first sought a career as an actor; he appeared in small parts in Sir Henry Irving’s company, before taking up the study of art in 1881. After less than a year’s attendance at the Slade School, Sickert left to become a pupil and etching assistant to James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Sickert’s earliest paintings were small tonal studies painted alla prima from nature after Whistler’s example.

In 1883, he travelled to Paris and met Edgar Degas, whose use of pictorial space and emphasis on drawing would have a powerful effect on Sickert’s work. He developed a personal version of Impressionism, favouring sombre colouration. Following Degas’ advice, Sickert painted in the studio, working from drawings and memory as an escape from “the tyranny of nature”. In 1888 Sickert joined the New English Art Club, a group of French-influenced realist artists. Sickert’s first major works, dating from the late 1880s, were portrayals of scenes in London music halls. One of the two paintings he exhibited at the NEAC in April 1888, Katie Lawrence at Gatti’s, which portrayed a well known music hall singer of the era, incited controversy “more heated than any other surrounding an English painting in the late 19th century”. Sickert’s rendering was denounced as ugly and vulgar, and his choice of subject matter was deplored as too tawdry for art, as female performers were popularly viewed as morally akin to prostitutes. The painting announced what would be Sickert’s recurring interest in sexually provocative themes.

In the late 1880s, Sickert spent much of his time in France, especially in Dieppe, which he first visited in mid-1885, and where his mistress, and possibly his illegitimate son, lived. During this period Sickert began writing art criticism for various publications. Between 1894 and 1904 Sickert made a series of visits to Venice, initially focusing on the city’s topography; it was during his last painting trip in 1903-1904 that, forced indoors by inclement weather, he developed a distinctive approach to the multiple figure tableau that he further explored on his return to Britain. The models for many of the Venetian paintings are believed to have been prostitutes, with whom Sickert may have had sex.

Sickert’s fascination with urban culture accounted for his acquisition of studios in working-class sections of London, first in Cumberland Market in the 1890s, then in Camden Town in 1905. The latter location provided an event that would secure Sickert’s prominence in the realist movement in Britain. On 11 September 1907, Emily Dimmock, a prostitute cheating on her partner, was murdered in her home at Agar Grove (then St Paul’s Road), Camden. After sexual intercourse the man had slit her throat open while she was asleep, then left in the morning. The Camden Town murder became an ongoing source of prurient sensationalism in the press. For several years Sickert had already been painting lugubrious female nudes on beds, and continued to do so, deliberately challenging the conventional approach to life painting – “The modern flood of representations of vacuous images dignified by the name of ‘the nude’ represents an artistic and intellectual bankruptcy” – giving four of them, which included a male figure, the title, The Camden Town Murder, and causing a controversy which ensured attention for his work. These paintings do not show violence, however, but a sad thoughtfulness, explained by the fact that three of them were originally exhibited with completely different titles, one more appropriately being What Shall We Do for the Rent?, and the first in the series, Summer Afternoon.

While the painterly handling of the works inspired comparison to Impressionism, and the emotional tone suggested a narrative more akin to genre painting, specifically Degas’s Interior, the documentary realism of the Camden Town paintings was without precedent in British art. These and other works were painted in heavy impasto and narrow tonal range. Sickert’s best known work, Ennui (c. 1913), reveals his interest in Victorian narrative genres. The composition, which exists in at least five painted versions and was also made into an etching, depicts a couple in a dingy interior gazing abstractedly into empty space, as though they can no longer communicate with each other.

Anonymous text on the Arts Dot website Nd [Online] Cited 08/05/2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing at left, High-Steppers about 1938-1939 below; and at right, Variation on ‘Othello’ c. 1933-1934 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'High-Steppers' about 1938-1939

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
High-Steppers
About 1938-1939
Oil on canvas
132.00 x 122.50cm
Framed: 149.50 x 139.50 x 10.00cm
National Galleries of Scotland
Purchased 1979

 

 

High-Steppers is probably Sickert’s last painting to show a theatre scene, one of his favourite subjects. It is his third painting of the Plaza Tiller Girls, a dance troupe who performed at the Plaza cinema in Piccadilly, entertaining the audience before the start of the film. Although Sickert was a frequent visitor to the theatre, he never made any drawings or paintings there; instead, he preferred to work from press photographs. All three paintings of the Plaza Tiller Girls were based on a photograph which appeared in The Evening News in 1927.

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Variation on 'Othello'' c. 1933-1934

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Variation on ‘Othello’
c. 1933-1934
Oil paint on canvas
1100 × 730 mm
Bristol Culture: Bristol Museums & Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walter Sickert' at Tate Britain, May - September 2022

 

Installation views of the exhibition Walter Sickert at Tate Britain, May – September 2022 showing in the bottom photograph at top left, King George V and his Racing Manager – A Conversation Piece at Aintree 1927 below; at second left, Edward VIII 1936 below; and at right, The Seducer c. 1929-1930 below

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'King George V and his Racing Manager: A Conversation Piece at Aintree' 1927

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
King George V and his Racing Manager: A Conversation Piece at Aintree
1927
Oil on canvas
The Royal Collection Trust

 

 

This portrait was closely based on a press photograph published in ‘The News Chronicle’ in March 1927, showing King George V, in profile, alongside Major Fetherstonhaugh, his racing manager from 1922-31. The King attended Aintree on 25 March, without Queen Mary and his Diary recalls: ‘Rained in sheets all the morning. Cleared up before the first race. There were large crowds. The Grand National was won by Mrs Partridges’s “Sprig”…, there were 37 runners, a very good race and no one hurt at all.’

Sickert blatantly acknowledged the source of the painting in the inscription on the upper left: ‘By Courtesy of Topical Press… 11 + 12 Red Lion / Court E.C.4. / Aintree 25.3.27’, and he allowed the painting and the photograph to be reproduced side by side. This act brought into focus the continuing debate on originality in art and the relationship between painting and photography. In a lecture in 1934 he recalled that ‘… neither knew they were being photographed. In those circumstances you get much more information… the expression that Major Featherstonaugh’s face was so very interesting’.

Sickert was to paint the King again in 1935, on this occasion with Queen Mary on a Jubilee drive (private collection). This portrait was also painted from a press photograph and it similarly captures the immediacy of a sudden, fleeting moment. It is interesting to recall that in 1883 Sickert met Edgar Degas, who too used photographs throughout his working life often wishing to create an intimate view, painted as if ‘through a keyhole’.

The painting was offered to Glasgow City Art Gallery in 1931, but deemed insufficiently majestic. It was also rejected by the Tate, the Victoria Art Galley, Bath and by George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1939 before its eventual purchase by Queen Elizabeth in 1951.

Text from the Google Arts & Culture website

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Edward VIII' 1936

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Edward VIII
1936
Oil on canvas

 

 

The last gallery astounds, even today, with its photo-based paintings from the late 1920s and 30s. Alexander Gavin Henderson, 2nd Lord Faringdon descends a staircase, all in white, like a bleached Luc Tuymans. Edward G Robinson and Joan Blondell leer out of the limelight of a gangster movie poster in an amazing work of proto pop. Most haunting of all is a portrait of Edward VIII emerging from a limousine in 1936. It shows Sickert as the most incisive – and premonitory – of history painters. The king’s legs are spindly, his sideways gaze shifty and he holds a busby to himself like an impotent shield. He is fading out already, eyes and face growing spectral in Sickert’s pale paint. Two months later, he will abdicate.

Laura Cumming. “Walter Sickert review – a master of menace,” on The Guardian website Sun 1 May 2022 [Online] Cited 12/05/2022

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'The Seducer' c. 1929-1930

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
The Seducer
c. 1929-1930
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 425 × 625 mm
Frame: 589 × 766 × 70 mm
Tate
Purchased 1989

 

 

The Seducer is an example of Sickert’s late work which he called ‘echoes’. These were subject pictures and portraits based on and ‘echoing’ black and white 19th century prints and illustrations. Sickert’s father had been an illustrator and the ‘echoes’ are replete with a sense of nostalgia for the Victorian era. This example is based on an original by Sir John Gilbert (1819-1897) whose romantic and melodramatic narratives Sickert admired.

Gallery label, August 2004

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Pimlico' c. 1937

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Pimlico
c. 1937
Oil on canvas
Aberdeen City Council (Art Gallery & Museums Collections)
Purchased in 1938 with income from the Macdonald Bequest

 

 

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05
Mar
17

Exhibition: ‘David Hockney: Current’ at NGV International, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 11th November 2016 – 13th March 2017

 

David Hockney. "Untitled" 2009 iPad Drawing © David Hockney

 

David Hockney (English, b. 1937)
Untitled, 91
2009
iPhone drawing
Collection of the artist
© David Hockney

 

 

Drawing inside the line

What Hockney does not do in his recent work, is draw inside the line.* By this I mean he fails to invest each line with feeling and empathy. For Hockney, the line is only a means to an end, for his art is basically reductive: how little can I get away with to impart my message.

The Yosemite paintings riff off Ansel Adams photographs; the 82 portraits & 1 still life (2013-2016, below) are some of the most dire portraits I have seen in a long time; and the paintings within paintings (or videos with split screens), develop his earlier Polaroid photography work with multiple perspectives making up one image, to little benefit. He even self quotes in A bigger card players (2015, below) with a painting of his earlier photographic work in the background.

Recently there were 553 Likes on one posting on the NGV Facebook page – it’s marvellous, fabulous, love the colours, just brilliant – and not a critical word to be heard. You could call this a kind of popular hysteria. But there has been little professional buzz around the exhibition.

For the viewer there is the invitation to reimagine, to see the world in different ways. But am I convinced? Not at all. I’ve seen the exhibition twice and have been totally underwhelmed both times. It’s just a contemporary version of Etch A Sketch – iPad art for the noughties.

Further, there seems to be little feeling about the whole enterprise. It’s as though he couldn’t push the art out fast enough, just like taking selfies on an iPhone and uploading them to Instagram. And this interchange between computer and eye, where the paintings look like computer aided anythings – is just rubbish.

I’ll leave you with a long but important text by Max Raphael quoted in John Berger’s Landscapes (below). Here Raphael articulates the concept of pictorial space and denotes the importance of an intensity of figuration. For Raphael, originality of constitution is NOT the urge to be different from others (iPad paintings etc…), it is the grasping of the origin of things: the roots of both ourselves and things. While suggestive form is a form of shorthand for the artist to convey the contents and feelings within himself to the viewer as Raphael notes, the artist must act upon the whole man, i.e. he must make the viewer live in the work’s own mode of reality.

This is something that Hockney never gets inside and never achieves. In the end the work is just appearance and illusion or, as someone said to me recently, smoke and mirrors.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the NGV for allowing me to publish the media images in this posting (first section of the posting).

All other images © David Hockney, Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria. Not to be reproduced without permission.

 

 

David Hockney. "Untitled, 22 January 2011" iPad Drawing © David Hockney

 

David Hockney (English, b. 1937)
Untitled, 655
2011
iPad drawing
Collection of the artist
© David Hockney

 

 

What are the methods of figuration?

1. The structuring of space.
2. The rendering of forms within that space effective.

The structuring of space has nothing to do with perspective: it’s tasks are to dislocate space so that it ceases to be static (the simplest example is that of the forward-coming relaxed leg in standing Greek figures) and to divide space into quanta so that we become conscious of its divisibility, and thus cease to be creatures of its continuity (for example, the receding planes parallel to the picture surface in late Cezannes). “To create pictorial space is to penetrate not only into the depths of the picture but also into the depths of our intellectual system of co-ordinates (which matches that of the world). Depth of space is depth of essence or else it is nothing but appearance and illusion.”

“The distinction between actual form and effective form is as follows: Actual form is descriptive; effective form is suggestive, i.e. through it the artist, instead of trying to convey the contents and feelings to the viewer by fully describing them, provides him only with as many clues as he needs to produce these contents and feelings within himself. To achieve this the artist must act not upon individual sense organs but upon the whole man, i.e. he must make the viewer live in the work’s own m.ode of reality.”

What does figuration, with this special material (see above), achieve?

“Intensity of figuration is not display of the artist’s strength; not vitality, which animates the outer world with the personal energies of the creative artist; not logical or emotional consistency, with which a limited problem is thought through or felt through to its ultimate consequences. What it does denote is the degree to which the very essence of art has been realised: the undoing of the world of things, the construction of the world of values, and hence the constitution of a new world. The originality of this constitution provides us with a general criterion by which we can measure intensity of figuration. Originality of constitution is not the urge to be different from others, to produce something entirely new; it is … the grasping of the origin: the roots of both ourselves and things.”

Max Raphael quoted in John Berger. “Revolutionary Undoing: On Max Raphael’s The Demands of Art,” John Berger. Landscapes. London and New York: Verso, 2016, pp. 50-51.

 

* “A line, an area of tone, is important not really because it records what you have seen, but because of what it will lead you on to see. Following up its logic in order to check its accuracy, you find confirmation or denial in the object itself or in your memory of it. Each confirmation or denial brings you closer to the object, until finally you are, as it were, inside it: the contours you have drawn no longer marking the edge of what you have seen, but the edge of what you have become.”

John Berger. “The Basis of All Painting and Sculpture is Drawing,” in John Berger. Landscapes. London and New York: Verso, 2016, p. 27.

 

David Hockney. "Self Portrait, 25 March 2012, No. 3" iPad Drawing © David Hockney

 

David Hockney (English, b. 1937)
Self Portrait, 25 March 2012, No. 3 (1236)
iPad drawing
Collection of the artist
© David Hockney

 

David Hockney. "Self Portrait, 20 March 2012" iPad Drawing © David Hockney

 

David Hockney (English, b. 1937)
Self-portrait, 20 March 2012 (1219)
iPad drawing
Collection of the artist
© David Hockney

 

David Hockney. "Self Portrait, 21 March 2012" iPad Drawing © David Hockney

 

David Hockney (English, b. 1937)
Self-portrait, 21 March 2012 (1223)
iPad drawing
Collection of the artist
© David Hockney

 

David Hockney. "Self Portrait, 25 March 2012, No. 2" iPad Drawing © David Hockney

 

David Hockney (English, b. 1937)
Self-portrait, 25 March 2012, No. 2 (1233)
iPad drawing
Collection of the artist
© David Hockney

 

David Hockney (English 1937- ) 'Bigger trees near Warter or/ou Peinture sur le motif pour le nouvel age post-photographique' 2007

 

David Hockney (English, b. 1937)
Bigger trees near Warter or/ou Peinture sur le motif pour le nouvel age post-photographique
2007
Oil on 50 canvases
459.0 x 1225.0cm (overall)
Tate, London
Presented by the artist 2008 (T12887)
© David Hockney
Photo credit: Richard Schmidt

 

David Hockney "Yosemite I, October 16th 2011" © David Hockney

 

David Hockney (English, b. 1937)
Yosemite I, October 16th 2011 (1059)
iPad drawing printed on four sheets of paper (39 x 35″ each) mounted on four sheets of Dibond
Edition of 12
77 3/4 x 69 3/4″ overall
Collection of the artist
© David Hockney
Photo credit: Richard Schmidt

 

David Hockney "The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven) - 31 May, No. 1" iPad drawing © David Hockney

 

David Hockney (English, b. 1937)
The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven) – 31 May, No. 1
iPad drawing printed on six sheets of paper (46 1/2 x 35″ each), mounted on four sheets of Dibond
Edition of 10
290.8 x 218.4cm (overall)
© David Hockney
Photo credit: Richard Schmidt

 

David Hockney. "The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven) - 29 January" iPad drawing © David Hockney

 

David Hockney (English, b. 1937)
The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven) – 29 January
iPad drawing printed on four sheets of paper (46 1/2 x 35″ each), mounted on four sheets of Dibond
Edition of 10
290.8 x 218.4cm (overall)
© David Hockney
Photo credit: Richard Schmidt

 

David Hockney. "Barry Humphries, 26-28 March" 2015 Acrylic on canvas 48 x 36" © David Hockney

 

David Hockney (English, b. 1937)
Barry Humphries, 26-28 March
2015
Acrylic on canvas
48 x 36″
© David Hockney
Photo credit: Richard Schmidt

 

David Hockney (English 1937- ) 'The group XI, 7-11 July 2014'

 

David Hockney (English, b. 1937)
The group XI, 7-11 July 2014
Acrylic on canvas
122.0 x 183.0cm
Collection of the artist
© David Hockney
Photo credit: Richard Schmidt

 

David Hockney (English 1937- ) '4 blue stools' 2014

 

David Hockney (English, b. 1937)
4 blue stools
2014
Photographic drawing printed on paper, mounted on Dibond
edition 5 of 25
170.3 x 175.9cm (image)
Collection David Hockney Foundation
© David Hockney
Photo credit: Richard Schmidt

 

David Hockney (English 1937- ) 'A bigger card players' 2015

 

David Hockney (English, b. 1937)
A bigger card players
2015
Photographic drawing printed on paper mounted on aluminium
edition 1 of 12
177.2 x 177.2cm
Collection David Hockney Foundation
© David Hockney
Photo credit: Richard Schmidt

 

David Hockney (English 1937- ) 'The jugglers' 2012

 

David Hockney (English, b. 1937)
The jugglers
2012
18 digital videos synchronized and presented on 18 55-inch screens to comprise a single artwork
22 min
205.7 x 728.0cm (overall)
Collection of the artist
© David Hockney

 

 

The National Gallery of Victoria presents a major solo exhibition of one of the most influential artists of the past century, David Hockney: Current, open until 13 March 2017 at NGV International. The exhibition, curated by the NGV in collaboration with David Hockney and his studio, features more than 1200 works from the past decade of the artist’s career – some new and most never-before-seen in Australia – including paintings, digital drawings, photography and video works.

Exhibition highlights include hundreds of extraordinary and sometimes animated, iPad digital drawings of still life compositions, self-portraits and large-scale landscapes including scenes of Yosemite National Park. Another highlight is The four seasons, Woldgate Woods (Spring 2011, Summer 2010, Autumn 2010, Winter 2010), a breath-taking and immersive video work showcasing the changing landscape of Hockney’s native Yorkshire, each season comprised of nine high-definition screens. A dedicated 60-metre long gallery lined with more than 80 recently painted acrylic portrait paintings of the artist’s family, friends and notable subjects including artists John Baldessari and Barry Humphries is also a major highlight.

Arguably Britain’s greatest living contemporary artist, David Hockney, 79, today works prolifically as a painter, also experimenting and mastering new technologies, producing thousands of drawings and works created on iPhone, iPad and in video. The artist will create a number of new works for the exhibition including an immersive room installation, which will be exhibited for the first time at the NGV.

Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV said: ‘It is a privilege to collaborate with David Hockney, one of the world’s most celebrated and truly innovative artists, to develop this exhibition which features dynamic new works and highlights of his oeuvre from the past decade. His recent use of cutting-edge technology will provide an engaging experience for visitors and reveal the mastery and skill behind his ever-evolving practice.’

Minister for Creative Industries Martin Foley said: ‘Presenting the work of the illustrious artist David Hockney is yet another coup for the NGV and presents an unprecedented opportunity for Victorians and all visitors to the state to experience the work of one of the world’s greatest living artists. It will no doubt be another must-see event on Victoria’s cultural calendar this summer.’

Other highlights of the exhibition include Bigger Trees Near Warter, Hockney’s largest painting comprised of 50 oil on canvas panels, and the centrepiece of Hockney’s hugely popular exhibition A Bigger Picture at the Royal Academy, London and now owned by the Tate. Transforming the gallery, the three remaining walls of this space will display 1:1 digital versions of the same work and it will be the first time that this major work has been exhibited in Australia.

Hockney’s continued investigation into multi-point perspective will be represented by The Jugglers, an 18-screen, 22-minute video that depicts the artist in a room of jugglers, injecting Hockney’s signature playfulness into the exhibition. Again utilising technology to reveal a study in perspective, Hockney’s Seven Yorkshire Landscapes is a 12-minute multi-viewpoint video displayed on 18 tiled, 55-inch monitors which will monumentally showcase the extraordinary landscape.

Press release from the National Gallery of Victoria

 

David Hockney (English 1937- ) 'iPad drawings' 2010-16

David Hockney (English 1937- ) 'iPad drawings' 2010-16

David Hockney (English 1937- ) 'iPad drawings' 2010-16

David Hockney (English 1937- ) 'iPad drawings' 2010-16

David Hockney (English 1937- ) 'iPad drawings' 2010-16

 

David Hockney (English, b. 1937)
iPad drawings
2010-16
iPad drawings, animations
Collection of the artist
Photo: © David Hockney, Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

The largest change in Hockney’s drawing technique at this time came with the artist’s adoption of the iPad. The surface of the iPad is much larger than the iPhone’s and is more in keeping with the scale of a traditional sketchbook. Soon after adopting the new device Hockney began drawing with a stylus rather than his finger. This was a significant development because it allowed him to continue his approach to drawing, developed throughout his career, on the new device.

 

David Hockney (English 1937- ) Bigger trees near Warter or/ou Peinture sur le motif pour le nouvel age post-photographique 2007 Oil on 50 canvases 459.0 x 1225.0 cm (overall) Tate, London

David Hockney (English 1937- ) Bigger trees near Warter or/ou Peinture sur le motif pour le nouvel age post-photographique 2007 Oil on 50 canvases 459.0 x 1225.0 cm (overall) Tate, London

David Hockney (English 1937- ) Bigger trees near Warter or/ou Peinture sur le motif pour le nouvel age post-photographique 2007 Oil on 50 canvases 459.0 x 1225.0 cm (overall) Tate, London

David Hockney (English 1937- ) Bigger trees near Warter or/ou Peinture sur le motif pour le nouvel age post-photographique 2007 Oil on 50 canvases 459.0 x 1225.0 cm (overall) Tate, London

David Hockney (English 1937- ) Bigger trees near Warter or/ou Peinture sur le motif pour le nouvel age post-photographique 2007 Oil on 50 canvases 459.0 x 1225.0 cm (overall) Tate, London

 

David Hockney (English, b. 1937)
Bigger trees near Warter or/ou Peinture sur le motif pour le nouvel age post-photographique
2007
Oil on 50 canvases
459.0 x 1225.0cm (overall)
Tate, London
Photo: © David Hockney, Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

The approach taken by Hockney in making this enormous work was technically innovative and complex. Working closely with his assistant Jean-Pierre Gonçalves de Lima (J-P), Hockney first painted each canvas on site, and at the end of every day’s work J-P digitally documented the progress made. Prints were then created from the digital images, making it possible to compare and contrast multiple canvases and check the progress of the overall picture at the location. In this presentation the painting is flanked by three versions printed from digital documentation of the canvases.

 

David Hockney (English 1937- ) 'The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven) - 4 May'

David Hockney (English 1937- ) 'The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven) - 4 May'

 

David Hockney (English, b. 1937)
The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven) – 4 May
iPad drawing printed on six sheets of paper (46 1/2 x 35″ each), mounted on four sheets of Dibond
Photo: © David Hockney, Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

David Hockney (English 1937- ) 'The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven)' (various)

David Hockney (English 1937- ) 'The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven)' (various)

David Hockney (English 1937- ) 'The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven)' (various)

David Hockney (English 1937- ) 'The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven) - 2 January'

 

David Hockney (English, b. 1937)
The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven)
iPad drawings and animations
Collection of the artist
Photo: © David Hockney, Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

The full suite of iPad drawings from the series The arrival of spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven) are presented here on monitors as final works and as animations showing each stroke of their creation.

 

 

Exhibition highlights and themes

iPHONE AND iPAD DRAWINGS

Hockney has a large pocket inside every suit he owns – it used to contain a sketchbook, now it holds an iPad. A hallmark of Hockney’s career has been constant experimentation with new technologies. Since the 1970s, Hockney has made art using Polaroid photography, colour photocopying, the fax machine, computers, high-definition multi-screen video and, in recent years, iPhones and iPads. These drawings also give charming insight into Hockney’s domestic life in Yorkshire, depicting slippers, bedclothes, pots of teas and flowers.

 

BIGGER TREES NEAR WARTER

Hockney grew up in Yorkshire in the city of Bradford; however, he left the district around age twenty – first for London, then briefly for Paris, before moving to Los Angeles. In 2004, Hockney returned to Yorkshire and set up a residence in the countryside. There, Hockney took much inspiration from the intensity of the seasons in Yorkshire. After living in California with its strong even light and mild temperature, Yorkshire offered intensely changing seasons and constantly modulating light.

Bigger Trees Near Warter is David Hockney’s largest painting and comprises fifty smaller canvases that combine to make one giant work. The work transports the viewer to the Yorkshire countryside in wintertime and surrounds them in a thicket of deciduous trees, their bare winter branches in a tangle above the viewer’s head. Bigger Trees is arguably the largest work ever painted en plein air and was mapped using computers and digital photography.

 

THE ARRIVAL OF SPRING

Prior to 2004, David Hockney was not considered to be a landscape painter; however, a return to his childhood home of Yorkshire inspired a profound artistic response to the local countryside. Hockney’s close attention to the changing seasons and moods of Yorkshire is reminiscent of Monet at Giverny, Cézanne at Aix-en-Provence, Corot at the Forest of Fontainebleau and Constable at Suffolk.

The digital drawings in the series The arrival of spring in Woldgate are bursting with the energy of springtime: trees full of blossom, luxurious pastures, and colourful flowers returning to life after the hiatus of winter.

 

YOSEMITE

Hockney’s digital drawings of Yosemite National Park in California, an area famous for its ancient sequoia trees and immense granite cliffs, highlight the artist’s interest in pictorial space. If The Arrival of Spring images featured relatively crowded, cloistered landscapes, the Yosemite series explores expansive vistas of mountains and towering trees.

The digital canvas on an iPad or iPhone is endlessly expandable, allowing Hockney to zoom in to add infinitely more detail, and then zoom back out to view the whole, expansive composition.

 

82 PORTRAITS & 1 STILL LIFE

This monumental portrait series started with a portrait of Hockney’s studio manager, J-P Gonçalves de Lima. In 2013, Hockney and his studio team suffered a tragedy when 23-year-old studio assistant, Dominic Elliot, unexpectedly died. The loss of this young talented man, who had worked with Hockney for a number of years, plunged the close-knit studio community into a profound grief and Hockney ceased making work. Hockney’s art-making hiatus ended with the cathartic creation of the portrait of J-P, who Hockney observed with his head in his hands – a pose that encapsulated their shared grief.

The other portraits depict Hockney’s close friends and family, including Australia’s own Barry Humphries, architect Frank Gehry and artist John Baldessari. Sitters posed for Hockney for twenty hours across three days, a strenuous feat for both sitter and the artist. When a sitter was unable to attend one day, Hockney turned to his stocks of fruit and vegetables. The whole series consequently has the charming title 82 portraits & 1 still life.

 

PHOTOGRAPHIC DRAWINGS

The world premiere, large-scale wallpaper work titled 4 blue stools is a digitally constructed image of David Hockney’s studio in the Hollywood Hills and features various friends and studio assistants. Referred to as a ‘photographic drawing’ by the artist, the work is a constructed image in which different photographs are digitally sutured together to create one reality. The people, the chairs, the paintings are photographed separately and from different angles and then joined together to create one single, disorientating composition that challenges the conventions of photography.

 

THE JUGGLERS

This multi-screened video work depicts a room of jugglers who were filmed using eighteen synched video cameras, each set to a slightly different zoom. The overall resulting image is disjointed and prompts the viewer to look more carefully at the scene. The work challenges the notion of single point perspective by offering multiple perspectives that aim to replicate some of the complexity of a human being’s lived experience in time and space.

 

A BIGGER CARD PLAYERS

A Bigger Card Players is a single image that further highlights Hockney’s continued interest in perspective and space. On first look, this image appears as a relatively commonplace photograph of men playing cards; however, on closer inspection, Hockney’s playful disorientation of space and perspective becomes more apparent.

 

THE FOUR SEASONS, WOLDGATE WOODS

Presented on four large panels, each comprising nine high definition screens, The four seasons, Woldgate Woods (Spring 2011, Summer 2010, Autumn 2010, Winter 2010) is an immersive video work that surrounds the spectator in the changing seasons of the Yorkshire landscape. Each film was shot using nine cameras, shooting simultaneously. The cameras were attached to a rig that moved slowly through the landscape. Like The Jugglers, each camera was set to a slightly different zoom and captures a different perspective of the same landscape and offers the viewer a new way of seeing the world around them.

Text from the NGV media kit

 

David Hockney (English 1937- ) '82 portraits & 1 still life' (installation view) 2013-2016

David Hockney (English 1937- ) '82 portraits & 1 still life' (installation view) 2013-2016

David Hockney (English 1937- ) '82 portraits & 1 still life' (installation view) 2013-2016

David Hockney (English 1937- ) '82 portraits & 1 still life' (installation view) 2013-2016

 

David Hockney (English, b. 1937)
82 portraits & 1 still life (installation views)
2013-2016
Acrylic on canvas
Collection of the artist
Photo: © David Hockney, Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

82 portraits & 1 still life is a major series of acrylic on canvas paintings created between 2013 and 2016. Each of the works was painted by Hockney while standing, in direct visual relationship to his subject, over a three day period. The works are shown here chronologically, beginning with the portrait to the left of J-P. The paintings depict many people connected with Hockney’s daily life, and others he invited to sit for him. When viewed together, uninterrupted – as they are here for the first time – the works also capture Hockney’s unwavering artistic drive.

 

David Hockney (English 1937- ) 'Augustus and Perry Barringer, 16th, 17th June 2014'

 

David Hockney (English, b. 1937)
Augustus and Perry Barringer, 16th, 17th June 2014
Acrylic on canvas
Collection of the artist
Photo: © David Hockney, Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

David Hockney (English 1937- ) '82 portraits & 1 still life' (installation view) 2013-2016

 

David Hockney (English, b. 1937)
Frank Gehry, 24th, 25th February 2016 and Edith Devaney, 11th, 12th, 13th February 2016 (installation view)
2013-2016
Acrylic on canvas
Collection of the artist
Photo: © David Hockney, Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

Edith Devaney is a contemporary art curator at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, where she curated the recent Hockney exhibition 82 Portraits & 1 Still Life. She contributed the text ‘Where do I end and they begin?’ to the David Hockney: Current exhibition publication, in which she observes: ‘The process is a very physical one for Hockney and he exhibits great mobility, continually moving forwards and backwards to look at the canvas close up and then from a few feet back … Throughout this process the level of concentration and intensity is unabated; it is clear that any exhaustion is balanced by the sheer joy of creation’.

 

David Hockney (English 1937- ) 'Julie Green, 11th, 12th, 13th January 2015' and 'Doris Velasco, 5th, 6th January 2015' (installation view) 2013-2016

 

David Hockney (English, b. 1937)
Julie Green, 11th, 12th, 13th January 2015 and Doris Velasco, 5th, 6th January 2015 (installation view)
2013-2016
Acrylic on canvas
Collection of the artist
Photo: © David Hockney, Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

David Hockney (English 1937- ) 'Yosemite I, October 5th 2011' (detail)

 

David Hockney (English, b. 1937)
Yosemite I, October 5th 2011 (detail)
iPad drawing printed on six sheets of paper mounted on six sheets of Dibond
Collection of the artist
Photo: © David Hockney, Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

David Hockney (English 1937- ) 'Yosemite II, October 16th 2011' (detail)

 

David Hockney (English, b. 1937)
Yosemite II, October 16th 2011 (detail)
iPad drawing printed on six sheets of paper mounted on six sheets of Dibond
Collection of the artist
Photo: © David Hockney, Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

David Hockney (English 1937- ) 'Yosemite III, October 5th 2011' (detail)

 

David Hockney (English, b. 1937)
Yosemite III, October 5th 2011 (detail)
iPad drawing printed on six sheets of paper mounted on six sheets of Dibond
Collection of the artist
Photo: © David Hockney, Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

David Hockney (English 1937- ) 'Yosemite' series (installation view) 2011

David Hockney (English 1937- ) 'Yosemite' series (installation view) 2011

 

David Hockney (English, b. 1937)
Yosemite series (installation views)
2011
iPad drawings
Collection of the artist
Photo: © David Hockney, Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

The body of work shown in this gallery depicts Yosemite National Park in California, United States, captured on location by Hockney on an iPad in same way he created the Arrival of Spring series. The change of light in these works is clearly different to that in the Arrival of Spring – more intense, harsher – and the scale of the landscapes more colossal than the winding roads of the Woldgate Woods works. The grand scale of these prints and the bank of monitors imparts some of the humbling experience of standing before the ancient sequoia trees and granite cliffs of Yosemite.

 

David Hockney (English 1937- ) 'The chairs' and 'four blue stools' 2014

 

David Hockney (English, b. 1937)
The chairs
2014
Photographic drawing printed on self-adhesive paper

4 blue stools
2014
Photographic drawing printed on self-adhesive paper

Collection of the artist
Photo: © David Hockney, Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

David Hockney (English 1937- ) '4 blue stools' 2014

 

David Hockney (English, b. 1937)
4 blue stools
2014
Photographic drawing mounted on Dibond
edition of 25
Collection David Hockney Foundation
Photo: © David Hockney, Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

David Hockney (English 1937- ) 'The group XI, 7-11 July 2014'

 

David Hockney (English, b. 1937)
The group XI, 7-11 July 2014
Acrylic on canvas
122.0 x 183.0cm
Collection of the artist
Photo: © David Hockney, Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

David Hockney (English 1937- ) 'The chairs' 2014

 

David Hockney (English, b. 1937)
The chairs
2014
Photographic drawing mounted on Dibond
edition of 25
Collection David Hockney Foundation
Photo: © David Hockney, Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

David Hockney (English 1937- ) 'The group VII, 20-27 May 2014'

 

David Hockney (English, b. 1937)
The group VII, 20-27 May 2014
Acrylic on canvas
Collection of the artist
Photo: © David Hockney, Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

Extracts from David Hockney’s The jugglers (2012)

 

 

NGV International
180 St Kilda Road

Opening hours for exhibition
10am – 5pm daily

National Gallery of Victoria website

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03
May
15

Exhibition: ‘J.M.W. Turner: Painting Set Free’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 24th February – 24th May 2015

Curators: Julian Brooks, curator of drawings, and Peter Björn Kerber, assistant curator of paintings

 

No words are necessary.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the J. Paul Getty Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Water, Wind, and Whales

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851) 'Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth' Exhibited 1842

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851)
Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth
Exhibited 1842
Oil on canvas
Unframed: 91.4 x 121.9cm (36 x 48 in.)
Tate: Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Photo: © Tate, London 2014

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851) 'Norham Castle, Sunrise' About 1845

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851)
Norham Castle, Sunrise
About 1845
Oil on canvas
Unframed: 90.8 x 121.9cm (35 3/4 x 48 in.)
Tate: Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Photo: © Tate, London 2014

 

 

Turner first saw Norham, bordering Scotland on the river Tweed in Northumberland, in 1797. He was at the limits of his trip to northern England, when he also visited Buttermere, seen in the painting of nearly fifty years earlier shown nearby. After that first visit he made watercolours showing the ruin at sunrise, and visits in 1801 and 1831 resulted in further views. Here, finally, is one of a series of unfinished, unexhibited paintings reworking his monochrome Liber Studiorum landscape prints. Pure colours rather than contrasting tones express the blazing light as the historic building and landscape merge.

.
It is a hundred years since Turner’s painting, Norham Castle, Sunrise, went on display for the first time. The painting was among a group of twenty-one previously unknown, and essentially ‘unfinished’, canvases that were the focal point of a new Turner room inaugurated at the Tate Gallery (now Tate Britain) in February 1906.

These pictures had entered to the national collection in 1856, but remained uncatalogued. This was chiefly due to a lack of adequate hanging space for the many oil paintings in the collection. But a bigger issue was the concern that the images would not be properly understood by the public. Gallery officials themselves had serious reservations, considering them only ‘rude beginnings’ or even ‘mere botches’.

Consequently, it was not until 1906, when a new generation began to look at Turner afresh, that space was made for the first batch of pictures disinterred from the National Gallery’s basement. These revelatory ‘new’ works were quite unlike the detailed pictures that the artist had exhibited. Their unresolved brushwork and luminous palette seemed to confirm the patriotic belief that Turner (and John Constable) had paved the way for the French Impressionists.

During the last hundred years, Norham Castle has gradually become the embodiment of many ideas about Turner’s later style, above all, its reduction of content to a minimum giving emphasis to the play of colour and light. This display explores the origins of Turner’s interest in Norham Castle as a subject and charts the impact the picture has had during its recent history.

Norham Castle, Sunrise: from incomprehension to icon,” on the Tate website

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851) 'Whalers', exhibited 1845

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851)
Whalers
Exhibited 1845
Oil on canvas
Unframed: 91.1 x 121.9cm (35 7/8 x 48 in.)
Tate: Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Photo: © Tate, London 2014

 

Continental Travels

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851) 'The Dogano, San Giorgio, Citella from the Steps of the Europa' Exhibited 1842

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851)
The Dogano, San Giorgio, Citella from the Steps of the Europa
Exhibited 1842
Oil on canvas
Unframed: 61.6 x 92.7cm (24 1/4 x 36 1/2 in.)
Tate: Presented by Robert Vernon 1847
Photo: © Tate, London 2014

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851) 'Approach to Venice' Exhibited 1844

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851)
Approach to Venice
Exhibited 1844
Oil on canvas
Unframed: 62 x 94cm (24 7/16 x 37 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Andrew W. Mellon Collection, 1937.1.110
Image courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851) 'Venice: Santa Maria della Salute, Night Scene with Rockets' about 1840

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851)
Venice: Santa Maria della Salute, Night Scene with Rockets
About 1840
Watercolour and bodycolor
Unframed: 24 x 31.5cm (9 7/16 x 12 3/8 in.)
Tate: Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Photo: © Tate, London 2014

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851) 'The Sun of Venice Going to Sea' Exhibited 1843

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851)
The Sun of Venice Going to Sea
Exhibited 1843
Oil on canvas
Unframed: 61.6 x 92.1 cm (24 1/4 x 36 1/4 in.)
Tate: Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Photo: © Tate, London 2014

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851) 'Venice at Sunrise from the Hotel Europa, with Campanile of San Marco' About 1840

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851)
Venice at Sunrise from the Hotel Europa, with Campanile of San Marco
About 1840
Watercolor
Unframed: 19.8 x 28cm (7 13/16 x 11 in.)
Tate: Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Photo: © Tate, London 2014

 

 

The large group of watercolours which resulted from Turner’s last visit to Venice in 1840 is characterised by a delicious liquidity which unifies air and water in layered, coloured mists. He stayed near the mouth of the Grand Canal at the Hotel Europe, from where he made sketches over the rooftops after dark. Alternatively, from a gongola off the great Piazzetta, he was able to see the sun set down the wide canal of the Giudecca.

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851) 'Ehrenbreitstein' 1841

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851)
Ehrenbreitstein
1841
Watercolour and pen and ink
Unframed: 23.7 x 30cm (9 5/16 x 11 13/16 in.)
Tate: Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Photo: © Tate, London 2014

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851) 'Rain Clouds' About 1845

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851)
Rain Clouds
About 1845
Watercolour
Unframed: 29.1 x 44cm (11 7/16 x 17 5/16 in.)
Tate: Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Photo: © Tate, London 2014

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851) 'The Blue Rigi, Sunrise' 1842

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851)
The Blue Rigi, Sunrise
1842
Watercolour
Unframed: 29.7 x 45cm (11 11/16 x 17 11/16 in.)
Tate: Purchased with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund (with a contribution from the Wolfson Foundation and including generous support from David and Susan Gradel, and from other members of the public through the Save the Blue Rigi appeal) Tate Members and other donors 2007
Photo: © Tate, London 2014

 

 

First major West Coast international loan exhibition focuses on Turner’s late work; Famed 19th-century master created many of his most renowned pieces after age 60.

One of the most influential painters of nature who ever lived, Joseph Mallord William Turner (English, 1775-1851) was especially creative and inventive in the latter years of his life, producing many of his most famous and important paintings after the age of 60. On view at the J. Paul Getty Museum February 24, 2015, through May 24, 2015, J.M.W. Turner: Painting Set Free brings together more than 60 key oil paintings and watercolours from this culminating period of his career, and is the West Coast’s first major exhibition of Turner’s work.

“J.M.W. Turner is the towering figure of British 19th century art, a ground-breaking innovator in his own day whose relevance and status as a seeming harbinger of 20th century ‘modernism; has made him an inspiration to generations of later artists up to the present day. A successful and well-known public figure in his own day, Turner produced some of his most innovative and challenging work during the last 16 years of his life,” explains Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “He was frequently mocked and misunderstood for his choice of unusual subject matters, his experimentation with different canvas formats, and his pioneering free and spontaneous techniques in both oil and watercolour. While Turner could not knowingly have anticipated future artistic trends, he is seen today by many as a prophet of modernism because of his rough, gestural brushwork and quasi-abstract subject matter. His work captured the natural landscape’s atmosphere and colour like no other artist before him, and conveyed the awe-inspiring power of the elements as never before. This exhibition celebrates Turner as the most innovative and experimental artist of his time, and I have no doubt that it will be inspiring to a new generation of artists working in California today.”

“The exhibition shows an artist at the top of his game, totally at ease with his media, and still keen to push boundaries and challenge assumptions. We see how Turner was modern in his own time, but the results are astonishing even for us today,” said Julian Brooks, one of the exhibition curators.

 

The Sea

In his later years, Turner’s continuing fascination with the sea reached a zenith. Although he respected existing conventions of marine painting, particularly its 17th-century Dutch roots, he consistently moved beyond them, turning the water into a theatre for drama and effect. At the Royal Academy exhibitions, he confounded viewers with his bold portrayals of modern maritime action – whales and their hunters battling for survival – while striving to capture the mysterious depths and forces of the elements. Never having witnessed a whale hunt himself, he included a reference to “Beale’s Voyage” in the catalogues, acknowledging that his source of inspiration was Thomas Beale’s Natural History of the Sperm Whale (1839). (Herman Melville consulted the same book when writing Moby-Dick, published in 1851.)

The London press at the time greeted Turner’s whaling pictures, such as Hurrah! for the Whaler Erebus! Another Fish!, 1846, with scathing attacks, lambasting their yellow palette and lack of finish. The Almanack of the Month printed a cartoon of a Turner painting with a large mop and a bucket labeled “yellow,” and opined that his pictures resembled a lobster salad.

 

Travel

In addition to the sea, Turner’s insatiable appetite for history, different cultures, and sublime natural scenery drew him time and again to Continental Europe, where he observed not only spectacular sites such as ancient ruins, medieval castles, jagged mountain peaks, and meandering rivers, but also local customs and dress. On such travels he made numerous watercolour sketches, which effectively captured fleeting effects of nature on paper. These works display a complex layering of colour animated through the pulsing energy of turbulent handling. They demonstrate both Turner’s commitment to observed natural effects and his unwavering obsession with the vagaries and delights of watercolour, a medium he had indisputably made his own. Some of the finished watercolours he made for sale after his trips, such as The Blue Rigi, Sunrise, 1842, represent pinnacles in the use of watercolour technique.

Turner was especially captivated by the particular combination of light and colour he found in Venice, and revisited the city several times. He traveled lightly, usually alone, making few concessions to his age or failing strength, and drew constantly in his sketchbooks. Turner’s many images of Venice were among his most potent late works, influencing later artists such as James Abbott McNeill Whistler (American, 1834-1903) and Claude Monet (French, 1840-1926).

For Turner, watercolour was the perfect medium to capture Venice’s aqueous and luminous effects. While based on on-the-spot sketches done there in 1840, Turner’s later paintings of Venice drew out the city’s essence and spirit rather than its exact topography. His Venice was often touched with a melancholy that echoed the romantic fatalism popularised by writers such as Lord Byron, offering a warning from history to Britain’s rise as a commercial empire.

 

Poetry

Turner was deeply interested in poetry and often paired his paintings with lines of text in order to elucidate their themes. In some cases he authored the poems himself but often he quoted celebrated 18th- and 19th-century British poets such as Thomas Gray and, most especially, Lord Bryon. Throughout the Getty exhibition, many of the lines of poetry or prose that he chose or wrote are reunited with his pictures on the gallery walls. For example, the lines “The moon is up, and yet it is not night/ The sun as yet disputes the day with her” from Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812-18) were chosen, and slightly altered by Turner to accompany two paintings: Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino, exhibited 1839, and Approach to Venice, exhibited 1844, which both feature the setting sun and a rising moon but also evoke the rise and fall of empires.

 

Contemporary Events

Much of Tuner’s later work reflects on contemporary events including the modern state of Italy, the legacy of the Napoleonic Wars, and the spectacular fires that ravaged the Palace of Westminster and the Tower of London in 1834 and 1841, respectively. In addition, Turner was the first major European artist to engage with innovations such as steam power, as seen in Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth, 1842, which shows this much-vaunted new technology at the mercy of the awesome power of the elements.

 

Technique

Perhaps nothing demonstrates Turner’s virtuosity as a painter better than the stories of his performances on “Varnishing Days.” The Royal Academy and the British Institution would set aside a short period of time for artists to put final touches on their work before an exhibition opened to the public. Turner revelled in the competitive jostling and repartee that occurred on these occasions. In his later years, he would frequently submit canvases with only the roughest indications of colour and form, speedily bringing them to completion on-site. Eyewitnesses record that Turner painted most of The Hero of a Hundred Fights, 1800-10, reworked and exhibited 1847, and Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, 16th October 1834, 1834-1835, on their respective varnishing days.

 

Pairs and Shapes

In his later years, Turner was as creative in his approach to media, materials, and techniques as he was in his choice of subject matter. He created works that offer some of his most dazzling displays of colour, audacious handling, and complex iconographies. From 1840 to 1846, the artist employed a smaller canvas size for a series of paintings, which were often conceived as pairs expressing opposites, such as two that were exhibited in 1842: Peace – Burial at Sea and War. The Exile and the Rock Limpet. These were principally square but could also be round or octagonal. Exploring states of consciousness, optics, and the emotive power of colour, they shocked and mystified his audience, who thought them the products of senility or madness. Painted near the end of his life, these inventive works are a coda to Turner’s career, representing a synthesis of his innovations in technique, composition and theme.

Turner died in 1851 at age 76, leaving the majority of his work to the English nation along with an intended bequest to support impoverished artists. In the years since, while popular and scholarly ideas about his work have changed, he inarguably emerges as one of the most beloved figures and popular painters in the history of the United Kingdom.

This exhibition was organised by Tate Britain in association with the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. It is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. The Getty Museum curators of the exhibition are Julian Brooks, curator of drawings, and Peter Björn Kerber, assistant curator of paintings.

The exhibition is accompanied by the publication J.M.W. Turner: Painting Set Free. Edited by David Blayney Brown, Amy Concannon, and Sam Smiles, this 250-page volume is richly illustrated.

  • Water, Wind, and Whales
  • Continental Travels
  • Contemporary Subjects
  • History, Myth, and Meaning
  • Pairs and Shapes

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Press release from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

 

Contemporary Subjects

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851) 'The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, October 16, 1834' 1834-35

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851)
The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, October 16, 1834
1834-35
Oil on canvas
Unframed: 92.1 x 123.2cm (36 1/4 x 48 1/2 in.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art: The John Howard McFadden Collection, 1928

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851) 'Fire at the Grand Storehouse of the Tower of London' 1841

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851)
Fire at the Grand Storehouse of the Tower of London
1841
Watercolour
Unframed: 23.5 x 32.5cm (9 1/4 x 12 13/16 in.)
Tate: Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Photo: © Tate, London 2014

 

 

This watercolour study was originally one of nine consecutive leaves (D27846 – D27854; Turner Bequest CCLXXXIII 1-9) in a sketchbook. They have previously been documented with varying degrees of certainty as showing the 1834 fire at the Houses of Parliament beside the River Thames in central London, but are here identified as representing the similarly large and dramatic fire which broke out at the moated Tower of London on 30 October 1841, destroying the late seventeenth-century Grand Storehouse (see the Introduction to the sketchbook for detailed discussion).

Conflagration of the Tower of London, on the Night of the 30th of October 1841, a colour lithograph published on 3 November of a view ‘drawn upon the spot by William Oliver’ (1804-1853) shows the Tower complex from the north, with flames and smoke pouring from the windows and rafters of the Grand Storehouse, largely obscuring the White Tower. This can be compared with the present work, the most precisely detailed of Turner’s studies in terms of architectural features. (See the Introduction for other comparisons between Turner’s studies and contemporary prints.) The pale blue form towards the left is presumably intended as the White Tower; otherwise lacking in detail, the inner faces of its corner turrets are shown receding in steep perspective, although in fact the north-west turret is cylindrical. Turner has included details of rafters, a pediment and what seems to be the clock tower of the Grand Storehouse (which fell in at quite an early stage of the fire), but it is not clear whether he intended to show the scene directly from the north, aligned directly on the façade of the storehouse, or obliquely from the north-east, which would explain the relative positions of the clock tower and the White Tower.

In addition to the newspaper stories extensively quoted in the sketchbook’s Introduction, the following details from the Times relate to the raising of the alarm late on the evening of Saturday 30 October:

[Sergeant] Edwards [‘of the 1st Battalion of Fusilier Guards’] states, that while he was in the Nag’s Head public-house, in Postern-row [opposite the north side of the Tower], he perceived, to his great surprise, a light through one of the windows, just above the bomb proof part of the Bowyer Tower. He went out and crossed to the railings at the top of the moat by which the Tower is surrounded, and watched the light for a minute or two. At first it appeared but little larger than the glimmer of a candle, but it suddenly increased to such an extent, that no doubt was left upon his mind that the place was on fire.1

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The present Tower study is notable in being the only one of the nine to incorporate gouache: a touch of white is combined with scratching out to render a bright light through a window of the towers silhouetted towards the left. This may be an effect Turner observed or imagined, or perhaps the report caught his attention.

Addressing the sequence of studies in the context of the traditional former 1834 identification, Katherine Solender felt that only this and D27850, D27853 and D27854 included ‘shapes that can be remotely identified with the Parliamentary complex’, in this case possibly indicating the roof and lantern of Westminster Hall on the right, with the Towers of Westminster Abbey beyond to the left.2 In his extended catalogue entry for Turner’s painting The Burning of the House of Lords and Commons, 16th October, 1834, exhibited at the British Institution in 1835 (Philadelphia Museum of Art),3 Richard Dorment presented a sustained interpretation of the this and the other eight watercolour studies in terms of a sequence reflecting the topography and chronology of the 1834 Westminster fire.4

Matthew Imms, April 2014 from catalogue entry to David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, September 2014

 

  1. ‘The Tower of London. Destructive Conflagration. (Additional Particulars.)’, The Times, Tuesday 2 November 1841, p. 5.
  2. Solender 1984, pp. 50-1; see also Lyles 1992, p. 72.
  3. Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp. 207-10 no. 359, pl. 364 (colour).
  4. Dorment 1986, pp. 400-1; see also Lyles 1992, p. 72.

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851) 'The Hero of a Hundred Fights' About 1800 - 1810, reworked and exhibited 1847

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851)
The Hero of a Hundred Fights
About 1800-1810, reworked and exhibited 1847
Oil on canvas
Unframed: 90.8 x 121.3cm (35 3/4 x 47 3/4 in.)
Framed: 127.5 x 158.5 x 18cm (50 3/16 x 62 3/8 x 7 1/16 in.)
Tate: Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Photo: © Tate, London 2014

 

 

This canvas was originally an exploration of industrial machinery, but it was reworked to show the moment when a bronze statue of the Duke of Wellington was removed from its mould. Using the intense light of the foundry to obscure the figure, Turner transforms Wellington into an ethereal presence. The image is in stark contrast to Turner’s carefully researched battle scenes. Here, tone and colour are employed to endow a national hero with elemental force.

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851) 'The Disembarkation of Louis-Philippe at the Royal Clarence Yard, Gosport, 8 October 1844' About 1844 - 1845

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851)
The Disembarkation of Louis-Philippe at the Royal Clarence Yard, Gosport, 8 October 1844
About 1844-1845
Oil on canvas
Unframed: 90.8 x 121.3cm (35 3/4 x 47 3/4 in.)
Framed: 128.4 x 159 x 8.3cm (50 9/16 x 62 5/8 x 3 1/4 in.)
Tate: Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Photo: © Tate, London 2014

 

 

Turner visited Portsmouth to record the arrival of the French king, who was on a State Visit. He made numerous sketches of the event and also painted two unfinished oils: one showing the king’s arrival, the other his disembarkation. Both are principally concerned with the atmosphere of the occasion, concentrating on the crowd of onlookers. Turner had met Louis-Philippe when the king was living in exile at Twickenham in the 1810s. Contact between them was renewed in the mid-1830s and he was invited to dine with him at his château at Eu in 1845.

 

History, Myth, and Meaning

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851) 'Regulus' 1828, reworked 1837

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851)
Regulus
1828, reworked 1837
Oil on canvas
Unframed: 89.5 x 123.8cm (35 1/4 x 48 3/4 in.)
Framed: 113.5 x 146 x 9.3cm (44 11/16 x 57 1/2 x 3 11/16 in.)
Tate: Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Photo: © Tate, London 2014

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851) 'Mercury Sent to Admonish Aeneas' Exhibited 1850

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851)
Mercury Sent to Admonish Aeneas
Exhibited 1850
Oil on canvas
Unframed: 90.2 x 120.6cm (35 1/2 x 47 1/2 in.)
Framed: 129.6 x 160.7 x 18.5cm (51 x 63 1/4 x 7 5/16 in.)
Tate: Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851) 'Mercury and Argus' Before 1836

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851)
Mercury and Argus
Before 1836
Oil on canvas
Unframed: 151.8 x 111.8cm (59 3/4 x 44 in.)
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Purchased 1951
Photo: © National Gallery of Canada

 

Pairs and Shapes

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851) 'Peace - Burial at Sea' Exhibited 1842

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851)
Peace – Burial at Sea
Exhibited 1842
Oil on canvas
Unframed: 87 x 86.7cm (34 1/4 x 34 1/8 in.)
Tate: Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Photo: © Tate, London 2014

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851) 'War. The Exile and the Rock Limpet' Exhibited 1842

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851)
War. The Exile and the Rock Limpet
Exhibited 1842
Oil on canvas
Unframed: 79.4 x 79.4cm (31 1/4 x 31 1/4 in.)
Tate: Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Photo: © Tate, London 2014

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851) 'Light and Color (Goethe's Theory) - The Morning After the Deluge - Moses Writing the Book of Genesis' Exhibited 1843

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851)
Light and Color (Goethe’s Theory) – The Morning After the Deluge – Moses Writing the Book of Genesis
Exhibited 1843
Oil on canvas
Unframed: 78.7 x 78.7cm (31 x 31 in.)
Framed: 103.5 x 103.5 x 12cm (40 3/4 x 40 3/4 x 4 3/4 in.)
Tate: Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Photo: © Tate, London 2014

 

 

The nine finished paintings are being shown in a dedicated room of the exhibition which brings new perspectives on Turner’s work during the final period of his life. At the time of their creation Turner’s square canvases were his most controversial and they were famously subjected to a hail of abuse in the press. Even Ruskin, a devoted fan, described Turner’s work by 1846 as ‘indicative of mental disease’. The show will reposition Turner in his old age as a challenging and daring artist who continued his lifelong engagement with the changing world around him right up until his death in 1851.

When Turner began painting on square canvases in the later years of his life between 1840 and 1846 they were a new format for the artist to be working in. In works known as Shade and Darkness and Light and Colour, both exhibited 1843, it can be seen how Turner developed his dramatic use of the vortex, a technique characteristic in his later work.

The display of the square canvases, along with one unfinished square composition, has been made possible by the important loans of Glaucus and Scylla 1841 (Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, USA), and Dawn of Christianity 1841 (Ulster Museum, Belfast, UK). The group of works includes some of Turner’s most iconic pairings such as Peace andWar, both exhibited 1842 (Tate). The exhibition as a whole will also include a number of pairings from throughout this period of his life, showing Turner’s fondness for working in sets or sequences in his old age.

“Turner’s controversial square canvases to be brought together for the first time,” from the Tate website 13 March 2014

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851) 'The Angel Standing in the Sun' Exhibited 1846

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851)
The Angel Standing in the Sun
Exhibited 1846
Oil on canvas
Unframed: 78.7 x 78.7cm (31 x 31 in.)
Framed: 103.5 x 103.5 x 12cm (40 3/4 x 40 3/4 x 4 3/4 in.)
Tate: Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Photo: © Tate, London 2014

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851) 'Ancient Rome: Agrippina Landing with the Ashes of Germanicus' Exhibited 1839

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851)
Ancient Rome: Agrippina Landing with the Ashes of Germanicus
Exhibited 1839
Oil on canvas
Unframed: 91.4 x 121.9cm (36 x 48 in.)
Tate: Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Photo: © Tate, London 2014

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851) 'Modern Rome - Campo Vaccino' 1839

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775-1851)
Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino
1839
Oil on canvas
Unframed: 91.8 x 122.6cm (36 1/8 x 48 1/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

The J. Paul Getty Museum
1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles, California 90049

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24
May
11

Exhibition: ‘A Ballad of Love and Death: Pre-Raphaelite Photography in Great Britain, 1848-1875’ at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Exhibition dates: 8th March – 29th May 2011

 

Julia Margaret Cameron – you are one of my heroes!

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Many thankx to the Musée d’Orsay for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Henry White. 'Ferns and brambles' 1856

 

Henry White (British, 1819-1903)
Fougères et ronces (Ferns and brambles)
1856
Albumen print
19.1 x 24.1 cm
Collection particulière
© Droits réservés

 

John Ruskin. 'Fribourg' 1859

 

John Ruskin (English, 1819-1900)
Fribourg
1859
Pencil, ink, watercolour and gouache on paper
22.5 x 28.7 cm
London, The British Museum
© The Trustees of The British Museum. All rights reserved

 

Frederick Crawley, under the direction of John Ruskin. 'Fribourg, Switzerland, Palm Street and Berne Bridge' about 1854 or 1856

 

Frederick Crawley, under the direction of John Ruskin
Fribourg, Suisse, Rue de la Palme et Pont de Berne (Fribourg, Switzerland, Palm Street and Berne Bridge)
about 1854 or 1856
Daguerréotype
11.5 x 15.1 cm
Angleterre, Courtesy K. and J. Jacobson
© Droits réservés

 

Roger Fenton. 'Bolton Abbey' 1854

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-1869)
Bolton Abbey, West window
1854
Albumen print
25.1 x 34.5 cm
Bradford, National Media Museum
© National Media Museum, Bradford/Science & Society Picture Library

 

John William Inchbold. 'La Chapelle de Bolton Abbey' 1853

 

John William Inchbold (English, 1830-1888)
La Chapelle de Bolton Abbey (The Vault of Bolton Abbey)
1853
Oil on canvas
50 x 68.4 cm
Northampton, Museum and Art Gallery
© Northampton, Museum and Art Gallery

 

Henry Peach Robinson. 'Fading Away' 1858

 

Henry Peach Robinson (English, 1830-1901)
Fading Away
1858
Albumen print
28.8 x 52.1 cm
Bradford, The Royal Photographic Society Collection au National Media Museum.
© National Media Museum, Bradford/Science & Society Picture Library

 

Henry Peach Robinson. 'She Never Told her Love' 1857

 

Henry Peach Robinson (English, 1830-1901)
She Never Told her Love
1857
Albumen print
18.6 x 23.3 cm
Paris, musée d’Orsay
© Musée d’Orsay (dist. RMN)/Patrice Schmidt

 

 

Consumed by the passion of unrequited love, a young woman lies suspended in the dark space of her unrealised dreams in Henry Peach Robinson’s illustration of the Shakespearean verse “She never told her love,/ But let concealment, like a worm i’ the bud,/ Feed on her damask cheek” (Twelfth Night II,iv,111-13). Although this picture was exhibited by Robinson as a discrete work, it also served as a study for the central figure in his most famous photograph, Fading Away, of 1858.

Purportedly showing a young consumptive surrounded by family in her final moments, Fading Away was hotly debated for years. On the one hand, Robinson was criticised for the presumed indelicacy of having invaded the death chamber at the most private of moments. On the other, those who recognised the scene as having been staged and who understood that Robinson had created the picture through combination printing (a technique that utilised several negatives to create a single printed image) accused him of dishonestly using a medium whose chief virtue was its truthfulness.

While addressing the moral and literary themes that Robinson believed crucial if photography were to aspire to high art, this picture makes only restrained use of the cloying sentimentality and showy technical artifice that often characterise this artist’s major exhibition pictures. Perhaps intended to facilitate the process of combination printing, the unnaturally black background serves also to envelop the figure in palpable melancholia.

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Arts website [Online] Cited 27/01/2020

 

Frederick Pickersgill. 'Sunshine and Shade' 1859

 

Frederick Pickersgill (English, 1820-1900)
Sunshine and Shade
1859
Albumen print
16.4 x 19.4 cm
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the National Media Museum.
© National Media Museum, Bradford/Science & Society Picture Library

 

 

The historian and art critic, John Ruskin, had a great influence in Great Britain not only on the Pre-Raphaelite movement created in 1848, but on the development of early photography in the 1850s. The leading Pre-Raphaelite painters, John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Holman Hunt and Ford Madox Brown and their followers, wished to change the pictorial conventions laid down by the Royal Academy, and in order to demonstrate the transformations in modern life, invented a radically new idiom marked by bright colours and clarity of detail.

Pre-Raphaelite painters and photographers frequently made similar choices of subjects, and the photographers, particularly Julia Margaret Cameron, David Wilkie Wynfield and Lewis Carroll, were often had close links with the painters.

When painting landscapes, the Pre-Raphaelite artists answered Ruskin’s call, meticulously observing nature in order to capture every nuance of detail. For their part, photographers, such as Roger Fenton, Henry White, William J. Stillman and Colonel Henry Stuart Wortley, experimented with the new process of wet plate collodion negatives that allowed much greater image detail, and achieved similar effects. Although highly impressed at first by the daguerreotype, which enabled the eye to see tiny, overlooked details, Ruskin was nonetheless still very critical of landscape photography, which could not reproduce the colours of nature and in particular of the sky. This failing also gave rise to a major debate amongst photography critics.

In portraiture, there were clear links between the painted portraits of Watts and Cameron’s photographic portraits. By using special lenses and photographing her models in close-up, Cameron, achieved, with a glass negative, exactly the opposite effect to the clear image advocated by Ruskin, and her work was distinctive for the breadth of relief and contour, as well as the compositions evoking Raphael’s paintings, also a source of inspiration for Watts.

The painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti repeatedly drew and painted Jane Morris, a model with whom he was infatuated, and he asked Robert Parsons to produce a series of photographs, under his personal direction, which captured the fascinating presence of the young woman as effectively as his own paintings.

Just like the Pre-Raphaelite painters, Victorian photographers would turn to religious or historical subjects, finding a shared inspiration in the poems of Dante, Shakespeare and possibly Byron, and above all in the Arthurian legend made popular once more by Lord Tennyson, the poet laureat. From a formal point of view, Millais’ Ophelia, one of his most successful paintings, was a source for Henry Peach Robinson’s photograph, The Lady of Shalott, even though it had a different theme.

Finally, Pre-Raphaelite painters and Victorian photographers both liked to present scenes from modern life with a moralising undertone: hence She Never Told Her Love, a photograph by Robinson that was very successful when exhibited at the Crystal Palace in 1858, William Holman Hunt’s painting, Awakening of Conscience, and Rossetti’s Found, a painting depicting a countryman who comes across his former sweetheart, now a prostitute in the city.

In the 1880s, Pre-Raphaelite painting would be transformed, with artists and writers like William Morris, Burne-Jones, Whistler and Oscar Wilde, into a very different movement concerned only with the cult of beauty and rejecting Ruskin’s concept of art as something moral or useful. British photographers, however, inspired by the Pre-Raphaelites would inspire the Pictorialist movement that flourished in the 1890s, encouraged by the writings of Henry Peach Robinson and Peter Henry Emerson, extolling artistic photography.

Press release from the Musée d’Orsay website

 

James Sinclair 14th Earl of Caithness. 'Weston Avenue, Warwickshire' c. 1860

 

James Sinclair 14th Earl of Caithness (Scottish, 1821-1881)
Avenue à Weston, Warwickshire (Weston Avenue, Warwickshire)
c. 1860
Albumen print
23 x 18.3 cm
New York, Courtesy George Eastman House Rochester
© Courtesy of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'The sunflower' 1866-1870

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, 1815-1879)
Le tournesol (The sunflower)
1866-1870
Albumen print
35.2 x 24.3 cm
Washington, National Gallery of Art, Fond Paul Mellon
© National Gallery of Art, Washington

 

John Robert Parsons, under the direction of Rossetti. 'Jane Morris posing in the house of Rossetti' summer 1865

 

John Robert Parsons (Irish, 1826-1909), under the direction of Rossetti
Jane Morris posant dans la maison de Rossetti (Jane Morris posing in the house of Rossetti)
Summer 1865
Modern print
22.6 x 17.5 cm
London, Victoria and Albert Museum
© V&A Images / Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

John Robert Parsons. 'Jane Morris posing in the garden of the house of Rossetti' summer 1865

 

John Robert Parsons (Irish, 1826-1909)
Jane Morris posant dans le jardin de la maison de Rossetti (Jane Morris posing in the garden of the house of Rossetti)
Summer 1865
Albumen print
Private collection
© Tim Hurst Photography

 

Dante Gabriel Rossetti. 'Jane Morris, the blue silk dress' 1868

 

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (English, 1828-1882)
Jane Morris, the blue silk dress
1868
Oil on canvas
110.5 x 90.2 cm
Londres, The Society of Antiquaries
© Kelmscott Manor Collection, by Permission of the Society of Antiquaries of London

 

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Caroll). 'Amy Hughes' 1863

 

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Caroll) (English, 1832-1898)
Amy Hughes
1863
Austin, The University of Texas, Harry Ransom Center, Gernsheim Collection
© Droits réservés

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Maud' 1875

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, 1815-1879)
Maud
1875
Charcoal print
30 x 25 cm
Paris, musée d’Orsay
© Musée d’Orsay (dist. RMN)/Patrice Schmidt

 

Sir John Everett Millais. 'A Huguenot, on St. Bartholomew's Day Refusing to Shield Himself from Danger by Wearing the Roman Catholic Badge' 1851-1852

 

Sir John Everett Millais (British, 1829-1896)
A Huguenot, on St. Bartholomew’s Day Refusing to Shield Himself from Danger by Wearing the Roman Catholic Badge
1851-1852
Oil on canvas
91.4 x 62.2 cm
Collection Makins
© The Makins Collection/The Bridgeman Art Library

 

Sir Edward Burne-Jones. 'Princess Sabra (The King's Daughter)' 1865-1866

 

Sir Edward Burne-Jones (British, 1833-1898)
Princess Sabra (The King’s Daughter)
1865-1866
Oil on canvas
105 x 61 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
© Musée d’Orsay (dist. RMN)/Patrice Schmidt

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'And Enid Sang' 1874

 

Julia Margaret Cameron  (British, 1815-1879)
And Enid Sang
1874
Print on albumen paper, collodion glass negative, laminated on cardboard
35 x 28 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
© Musée d’Orsay (dist. RMN)

 

 

Musée d’Orsay
62, rue de Lille
75343 Paris Cedex 07
France

Opening hours:
9.30 am – 6 pm
9.30 am – 9.45 pm on Thursdays
Closed on Mondays

Musée d’Orsay website

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26
Mar
09

Exhibition: ‘Francis Bacon’ at the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Exhibition dates: 3rd February – 19th April 2009

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992) 'Triptych inspired by T.S. Eliot's 'Sweeney Agonistes'' 1967

 

Francis Bacon (British, 1909-1992)
Triptych inspired by T.S. Eliot’s ‘Sweeney Agonistes’
1967
Oil on canvas
198 x 147.5cm (each)
Washington, D.C. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution. Gift of the Joseph H. Hirshhorn Foundation, 1972

 

 

Looks like an amazing exhibition of Francis Bacon’s work, one of my favourite artists – I wish I could see it!

.
Many thankx to the Museo Nacional del Prado for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

The exhibition is constructed in different sections

  • Animal
  • Zone
  • Apprehension
  • Crucifixion
  • Crisis
  • Archive
  • Portrait
  • Memorial
  • Epic
  • Late

.
Bacon’s work demonstrates marked similarities to that of many of the Spanish artists he admired. (Manuela Mena, co-curator of the exhibition at the Prado, has written an excellent essay on this topic that can be found in the exhibition’s catalog.) The retrospective at the Prado provides a rare opportunity to compare Bacon to some of the Spanish masters that influenced him.

Start by meandering through the vast Bacon exhibition. Spread between two floors of the new wing of the Prado, the exhibition has brought together Bacon’s most important works from nearly his entire artistic production. It begins with the work that put Bacon on the map, “Three Studies for Figures at the Foot of a Crucifixion” (1944), and follows his work through the interpretations of Velázquez, crucifixion triptychs, his unique portraits and the late works through the years shortly before his death.

Text from the Prado website

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992) 'Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion' c. 1944

 

Francis Bacon (British, 1909-1992)
Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion
c. 1944
Oil on board
94 x 73.7cm
London, Tate, presented by Eric Hall 1953

 

 

Animal

A philosophical attitude to human nature first emerges in Francis Bacon’s works of the 1940s. They reflect his belief that, without God, humans are subject to the same natural urges of violence, lust and fear as any other animal. He showed Figure in a Landscape and Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion in April 1945, and exhibited consistently thereafter. The bestial depiction of the human figure was combined with specific references to recent history and especially the devastating events of the Second World War. Bacon often drew his inspiration from reproductions, acquiring a large collection of books, catalogues and magazines. He repeatedly studied key images in order to probe beneath the surface appearance captured in photographs. Early concerns that would persist throughout his work include the male nude, which reveals the frailty of the human figure, and the scream or cry that expresses repressed and violent anxieties. These works are among the first in which he sought to balance psychological insights with the physical identity of flesh and paint.

 

Francis Bacon. 'Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X' 1953

 

Francis Bacon (British, 1909-1992)
Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X
1953
Oil on canvas
153 x 118cm
Des Moines, Nathan Emory Coffin Collection of the Des Moines Arts Center, purchased with funds from the Coffin Fine Arts Trust

 

 

Zone

In his paintings from the early 1950s, Bacon engaged in complex experiments with pictorial space. He started to depict specific details in the backgrounds of these works and created a nuanced interaction between subject and setting. Figures are boxed into cage-like structures, delineated ‘space-frames’ and hexagonal ground planes, confining them within a tense psychological zone. In 1952 he described this as “opening up areas of feeling rather than merely an illustration of an object”. Through his technique of ‘shuttering’ with vertical lines of paint that merge the foreground and background, Bacon held the figure and the setting together within the picture surface, with neither taking precedence in what he called “an attempt to lift the image outside of its natural environment”.

A theme that emerged in the 1950s was the extended series of variants of Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, 1650 (Rome, Galleria Doria Pamphilj), a work Bacon knew only from illustrations. He used this source to expose the insecurities of the powerful – represented most often in the scream of the caged figure. Through the open mouth Bacon exposed the tension between the interior space of the body and the spaces of its location, which is explored more explicitly in the vulnerability of the ape-like nudes.

 

Francis Bacon. 'Chimpanzee' 1955

 

Francis Bacon (British, 1909-1992)
Chimpanzee
1955
Oil on canvas
152.5 x 117cm
Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie

 

 

Apprehension

Implicit throughout Bacon’s work of the mid 1950s is a sense of dread pervading the brutality of everyday life. Not only a result of Cold War anxiety, this seems to have reflected a sense of menace at a personal level emanating from Bacon’s chaotic affair with Peter Lacy (who was prone to drunken violence) and the wider pressures associated with the continuing illegality of homosexuality. The Man in Blue series captures this atmosphere, concentrating on a single anonymous male figure in a dark suit sitting at a table or bar counter on a deep blue-black ground. Within their simple painted frames, these awkwardly posed figures appear pathetically isolated.

Bacon’s interest in situations that combine banality with acute apprehension was also evident in other contemporary works. From figures of anxious authority, his popes took on malevolent attributes and physical distortions that were directly echoed in the paintings of animals, whose actions are also both sinister and undignified. Some of these images derived from Bacon’s close scrutiny of the sequential photographs of animals and humans taken by Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904), which he called “a dictionary” of the body in motion.

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992) 'Three Studies for a Crucifixion' 1962

 

Francis Bacon (British, 1909-1992)
Three Studies for a Crucifixion
1962
Oil on canvas
198.2 x 144.8cm
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

 

 

Crucifixion

Bacon made paintings related to the Crucifixion at pivotal moments in his career, which is why these key works are gathered here. The paradox of an atheist choosing a subject laden with Christian significance was not lost on Bacon, but he claimed, “as a non-believer, it was just an act of man’s behaviour”. Here the instincts of brutality and fear combine with a deep fascination with the ritual of sacrifice. Bacon had already made a very individual crucifixion image in 1933 before returning to the subject with his break-through triptych Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion in 1944. This is a key precursor to later themes and compositions, containing the bestial distortion of human figures within the triptych format. These monstrous creatures displace the traditional saints and Bacon later related them to the Eumenides – the vengeful furies in Greek mythology. In resuming the theme in the 1960s, especially in 1962 as the culmination of his first Tate exhibition, Bacon used references to Cimabue’s 1272-1274 Crucifixion to introduce a more explicitly violent vision. Speaking after completing the third triptych in 1965 he simply stated: “Well, of course, we are meat, we are potential carcasses”.

 

Francis Bacon. 'Paralytic Child Walking on All Fours (from Muybridge)' 1961

 

Francis Bacon (British, 1909-1992)
Paralytic Child Walking on All Fours (from Muybridge)
1961
Oil on canvas
198 x 142cm
The Hague, Collection Gemeentemuseum Den Haag

 

 

Crisis

Between 1956 and 1961, Bacon travelled widely. He spent time in places marginal to the art world, in Monaco, the South of France and Africa, and particularly with Peter Lacy in the ex-patriot community in Tangier. In this rather unsettled context, he explored new methods of production, shifting to thicker paint, violently applied and so strong in colour as to indicate an engagement with the light of North Africa. This was most extreme in his series based on a self-portrait of Van Gogh, The Painter on the Road to Tarascon (1888, destroyed), which became an emblem of the modern predicament. Despite initial acclaim, Bacon’s Van Gogh works were soon criticised for their “reckless energy” and came to be viewed as an aberration. They can now be recognised as pivotal to Bacon’s further development, however, and allow glimpses into his search for new ways of working. His innovations were perhaps in response to American Abstract Expressionism, of which he was publicly critical. Although he eventually returned to a more controlled approach to painting, the introduction of chance and the new vibrancy of colour at this moment would remain through out his career.

 

Montage of material from Bacon's Studio

 

Montage of material from Bacon’s Studio (including pictures of Velázquez’s Innocent X, The Thinker by Rodin etc.)
7 Cromwell Place
c. 1950
© Sam Hunter

 

 

Archive

The posthumous investigation of Bacon’s studio confirmed the extent to which he used and manipulated photographic imagery. This practice was already known from montages recorded in 1950 by the critic Sam Hunter. Often united by a theme of violence, the material ranges between images of conflict, big game, athletes, film stills and works of art.

An important revelation that followed the artist’s death was the discovery of lists of potential subjects and preparatory drawings, which Bacon had denied making. Throughout his life, he asserted the spontaneous nature of his work, but these materials reveal that chance was underpinned by planning.

Photography offered Bacon a dictionary of poses. Though he most frequently referred to Eadweard Muybridge’s (1830-1904) survey of human and animal locomotion, images of which he combined with the figures of Michelangelo, he remained alert to photographs of the body in a variety of positions.

A further extension of Bacon’s preparatory practices can be seen in his commissioning of photographs of his circle of friends from the photographer John Deakin (1912-1972). The results – together with self-portraits, photo booth strips, and his own photographs – became important prompts in his shift from generic representations of the human body to portrayals of specific individuals.

 

A matrix of images

Bacon’s use of photographic sources has been known since 1950 when the critic Sam Hunter took three photographs of material he had selected from a table in Bacon’s studio in Cromwell Place, South Kensington. Hunter observed that the diverse imagery was linked by violence, and this fascination continued throughout Bacon’s life. Images of Nazis and the North African wars of the 1950s were prominent in his large collection of sources. Films stills and reproductions of works of art, including Bacon’s own, were also common. The dismantling of Bacon’s later studio, nearby at Reece Mews, after his death confirmed that the amassing of photographic material had remained an obsession. While some images were used to generate paintings, he also seems to have collected such an archive for its own sake.

 

The mediated image

From the 1960s, Bacon’s accumulation of chance images began to include a more deliberate strategy of using photographs of his close circle. They became key images for the development of the portraits that dominated his paintings at this time. Snap shots and photo booth strips were augmented by the unflinching photographs taken by his friend John Deakin. Bacon specifically commissioned some of these from Deakin as records of those close to him – notably his partner from 1962, George Dyer – and they served as sources for likenesses and for poses for the rest of his career.

 

The Physical Body

Bacon drew more from Eadweard Muybridge’s sequential photographs of human and animal locomotion than from any other source. These isolated the naked figure in a way he clearly found stimulating. He also, however, spoke of projecting on to them Michelangelo’s figures which for him had more “ampleness” and “grandeur of form”.

His fascination in photography’s freezing of the body in motion led him to collect sports photographs, particularly boxing, cricket and bullfighting. It was not just movement but the physicality of the body that Bacon scrutinised, using found images to provoke new ways of picturing its strength and vulnerability.

 

Francis Bacon. 'Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne Standing in a Street in Soho' 1967

 

Francis Bacon (British, 1909-1992)
Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne Standing in a Street in Soho
1967
Oil on canvas
198 x 147.5cm
Berlin, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie

 

 

Portrait

During the 1960s, the larger part of Bacon’s work shifted focus to portraits and paintings of his close friends. These works centre on two broad concerns: the portrayal of the human condition and the struggle to reinvent portraiture. Bacon drew upon the lessons of Van Gogh and Velázquez, but attempted to rework their projects for a post-photographic world. His approach was to distort appearance in order to reach a deeper truth about his subjects. To this end, Bacon’s models can be seen performing different roles. In the Lying Figures series, Henrietta Moraes is naked and exposed. This unprecedented raw sexuality reinforces Bacon’s understanding of the human body simply as meat. By contrast Isabel Rawsthorne, a fellow painter, always appears in control of how she is presented. With a mixture of contempt and affection, Bacon depicted George Dyer, his lover and most frequent model, as fragile and pathetic. This is especially evident in Dyer’s first appearance in Bacon’s work, in Three Figures in a Room, in which he represents the absurdities, indignities and pathos of human existence. Everyday objects occasionally feature in these works, hollow props for lonely individuals which reinforce the sense of isolation that Bacon associated with the human condition.

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992) 'Triptych - August 1972' 1972

 

Francis Bacon (British, 1909-1992)
Triptych – August 1972
1972
Oil on canvas
198 x 147.5cm
London, Tate

 

 

Memorial

This room is dedicated to George Dyer who was Bacon’s most important and constant companion and model from the autumn of 1963. He committed suicide on 24 October 1971, two days before the opening of Bacon’s major exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris. Influenced by loss and guilt, the painter made a number of pictures in memorial to Dyer. From this period onwards the large-scale triptych was his established means for major statements, having the advantage of simultaneously isolating and juxtaposing the participating figures, as well as guarding against narrative qualities that Bacon strove to avoid. But while evading narrative, Bacon drew more than ever from literary imagery; the first of the sequence, Triptych In Memory of George Dyer 1971, refers to a specific section of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922). In addition to his own memory, for Triptych – August 1972 Bacon relied on photographs, taken by John Deakin, of Dyer in various poses on a chair. He confined his dense and energetic application of paint to the figures in these works. The dark openings consciously evoke the abyss of mortality that would become a recurring concern in Bacon’s later works.

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992) 'Triptych' 1987

 

Francis Bacon (British, 1909-1992)
Triptych
1987
Oil on canvas
198 x 147.5cm
London, The Estate of Francis Bacon, courtesy Faggionato Fine Art

 

 

Epic

References to poetry and drama became a central element in Bacon’s work from the second half of the 1960s. Alongside images of friends and single figures (often self-portraits), he produced a series of grand works that identified with great literature. Imbued with the inevitability and constant presence of death, the poetry of T.S. Eliot was a particular source of inspiration. The sentiments of the poet’s character Sweeney could be said to echo the painter’s perspective on life:

Birth, and copulation, and death.

That’s all the facts when you come to

brass tacks:

Birth, and copulation, and death.

The works in this room refer to and derive from literature. Some make direct references in their titles, others depict, sometimes abstractly, a certain scene or atmosphere within the narratives themselves. Bacon repeatedly stated that none of his paintings were intended as narratives, so rather than illustrations, these works should perhaps be understood as evoking the experience of reading of Eliot’s poetry or Aeschylus’s tragedies: their violence, threat or erotic charge. Thus, of the triptych created after reading Aeschylus, Bacon explained “I tried to create images of the sensations that some of the episodes created inside me”.

 

Francis Bacon. 'Portrait of John Edwards' 1988

 

Francis Bacon (British, 1909-1992)
Portrait of John Edwards
1988
Oil on canvas
198 x 147.5cm
The Estate of Francis Bacon, courtesy of Faggionato Fine Arts, London, and Tony Shafrazi Gallery, New York

 

 

Late

When Bacon turned seventy in 1979, more than a decade of work lay ahead of him. Neither his legendarily hedonistic lifestyle nor his work pattern seemed to age him, but he was continually facing up to mortality through the deaths of those around him. This unswerving confrontation, however mitigated by youthful companions such as John Edwards, became the great theme of his late style. Constantly stimulated by new source material – for example the photographs and the poetry of Federico García Lorca which triggered his bullfight paintings – he was able to adapt them to his abiding concerns with the vulnerability of flesh. Exploring new techniques he also extended his fascination with how appropriate oil paint is for rendering the human body’s sensuality and sensitivity. A certain despairing energy may also be felt in the forceful throwing of paint that dominates some of these final works: the controlled chance as a defiant gesture. Ultimately, and appropriately, Bacon’s last triptych of 1991 returns to the key image of sexual struggle that had frequently recurred in his work. He faced death with a defiant concentration on the exquisiteness of the lived moment.

 

Francis Bacon (British, 1909-1992) 'Three Studies for Self-Portrait' 1979-1980

 

Francis Bacon (British, 1909-1992)
Three Studies for Self-Portrait
1979-1980
Oil on canvas
37.5 x 31.8cm
Nueva York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Jacques and Natasha Gelman collection, 1998

 

 

Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon is internationally acknowledged as among the most powerful painters of the twentieth century. His vision of the world was unflinching and entirely individual, encompassing images of sensuality and brutality, both immediate and timeless. When he first emerged to public recognition, in the aftermath of the Second World War, his paintings were greeted with horror. Shock has since been joined by a wide appreciation of Bacon’s ability to expose humanity’s frailties and drives.

This major retrospective gathers many of his most remarkable paintings and is arranged broadly chronologically. Bacon’s vision of the world has had a profound impact. It is born of a direct engagement that his paintings demand of each of us, so that, as he famously claimed, the “paint comes across directly onto the nervous system”.

As an atheist, Bacon sought to express what it was to live in a world without God or afterlife. By setting sensual abandon and physical compulsion against hopelessness and irrationality, he showed the human as simply another animal. As a response to the challenge that photography posed for painting, he developed a unique realism which could convey more about the state of existence than photography’s representation of the perceived world. In an era dominated by abstract art, he amassed and drew upon a vast array of visual imagery, including past art, photography and film. These artistic and philosophical concerns run like a spine through the present exhibition.

 

 

Museo Nacional Del Prado
Paseo del Prado, s/n,
28014 Madrid, Spain

Opening hours:
Monday – Saturday 10am – 8pm
Sunday 10am – 7pm

Museo Nacional del Prado website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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