Posts Tagged ‘Edgar Degas

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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16
Sep
16

Review: ‘Degas: A New Vision’ at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne Part 2

Exhibition dates: 24th June – 18th September 2016

 

Edgar Degas. 'Finishing the arabesque' 1877

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Finishing the arabesque
1877
Oil and essence, pastel on canvas
67.4 x 38cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris (RF 4040)
© Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt

 

 

This is a magnificent exhibition, well paced and beautifully hung in the gallery spaces. It is gratifying to see a “blockbuster” at the National Gallery of Victoria that does not rely on papered walls or patterned floors, that just allows the work to speak for itself. There is an excellent chronological trajectory to the work, showcasing the holistic development of the artist in one interweaving arc: from the early history paintings, where Degas is educating himself not only in the history of art but also in the practicalities of the history of painting (how actually to paint) … through to the late, bravura pastels.

Pastel is Degas’s strongest medium and it was incredible to observe close up how he could make pastel look like oil paint and vice versa. My favourite was Femme à la toilette [Woman at her toilette] (c. 1894, below) were the flattened perspectival image disintegrates before your eyes: “As well as reflecting the artist’s love of Japanese woodblock prints with their frequently intimate subject matter, in this late drawing Degas applied his vivid pigments with an almost sculptural intensity, building them up as though modelling form with his fingers.” Abstraction eat your heart out.

His “impressions” of reality rely on a keen eye, a wonderful understanding of space and the refractions of light, and the use of depth of field. The paintings I like best were not of the ballet, but rather the everyday “observational” paintings of the theatre box, a conversation and, particularly, The laundress ironing (c. 1882-86, below) with its simplified planar colour fields that run in different directions. These “punctures” of reality, or punctum to use a photographic term, elevate mundane everyday occurrences into a revelatory state – as though these encounters were taken from the flow of space and time, one frame out of a non-linear narrative.

The paintings of women at the toilettes are not voyeuristic but show a love and passion for an intimacy with women which he perhaps never achieved in real life, brought forth in observations of the female form “that challenged conventional notions of feminine beauty in their depiction of non-idealised jolie-laide (unconventionally beautiful) models”. Melbourne arts blogger Natalie Thomas observes that, “”Women and girls are everywhere in this show, but strangely absent too,” writes Thomas. Despite the fact the majority of Degas’ work explores femininity and the female body, the show, she says, fails to provide a female perspective.” (Natalie Thomas quoted in Shad D’Souza, “Gender and the NGV: ‘More white male artists than you can shake a stick at’,” on The Guardian website 15 September 2016 Cited 16/09/2016).

While I agree with Natalie Thomas that these paintings fail to provide a contemporary female perspective, that is not all that these paintings are about. Of course, they are a privileged white male gaze looking upon the body of a female and we must accept and acknowledge that is what they are. But that is just one element of their narrative. It’s all very well critiquing the work from the present day and saying there is no female perspective, but in the era in which these “sensational” paintings emerged – it was an epoch where the privileged, powerful male gaze could look upon the female body. Yes, please look at the paintings from a contemporary perspective while understanding the conditions under which they were created, and then try to say something more interesting about them: the perspective, the colours, the form, the position of the painter, the framing of the scene, the possible disappearance of the artist to the sitter, as though the camera (his eyes) had disappeared: where someone is so used to the other being there, that they are natural (do not act or perform), unselfconscious in front of them. Then, and only then, do the paintings perhaps become something else – about women, their lives and habits / habitats. A different perspective from trotting out the usual “we are objectified / subjugated / defiled” trope.

The sculptures are the revelation of the exhibition. Again, the male gaze pushing and prodding at the female form… except, these sculptures seem to erupt from within – like bubbling hot mud that seems to emanate from deep within the artist, erupting into the glorious form of the female body. Dark and mysterious, I would have loved to have seen one of the wax models, just one, to see the colour and feel the fragility of that form, over the robustness of the bronze.

And finally to the last room, the late works. There is an essentialness to the late work, the form stripped bare, heavily applied pastel in layers, dark heavy outlines with the frame filled with an “orgy of colours” – he “developed an expressive use of colour and line that may have arisen due to his deteriorating vision.” But he could still feel what he was doing and we can feel it too: the working of the medium, the working of the theme to its final resolution.

While I didn’t know much about the work of Degas other than the ballet pictures before this exhibition – after three visits, perhaps I know just a little more.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish the artwork and photographs in the posting. All installation photographs © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Cafés-concerts: 1870s

The time that Degas spent overseas in New Orleans made him surprisingly nostalgic for everything he had left behind in Paris. The simple reason he gave was that ‘One loves and gives art only to the things to which one is accustomed’. Although delighted by the new sights and sensations he experienced in New Orleans, he felt that ‘ new things capture your face and bore you by turns’. With these words, Degas expressed what would become his credo for the rest of his career.

After this time, Degas refused invitations to travel to exotic locales and put aside the search for new subjects, focusing instead on the same themes: dancers, rockets, women in the bath. The novelty of what he had discovered in America also led him soon afterwards to retreat into himself. seeing inspiration in introspection. For Degas the exotic could be found perfectly well at home, especially in the new evening venues of 1870s Paris, the café-concerts. He delighted in exploring the tension and psychological preparation that lay behind the surface glamour of stage performances conducted within an artificial other-reality.

 

Edgar Degas. 'Danseuses, éventail [Dancers (Fan, design)]' (installation view) 1879

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Danseuses, éventail [Dancers (Fan, design)] (installation view)
1879
Gouache, pastel and oil paint on silk
Tacoma Art Museum, Washington State
Gift of Mr and Mrs W. Hilding Lindberg
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

[Dancers (Fan, design) belongs to a group of fans made in the late 1870s that reflect Degas’s fascination at this time with Japanese art. Highly aestheticised, these fans show how Degas took advantage of this unusual format to explore new compositional possibilities. Here, for example, the balletic action taking place on stage competes for the viewer’s attention with the theatre’s screening machinery, as well as with the group of black-clad abonnés (subscribers with back stage passes) gathered in the wings in the middle distance.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at left, Theatre box (1885) and at right, Theatre box (1880)
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Edgar Degas. 'La Loge [Theatre box]' 1885

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
La Loge [Theatre box] (installation view)
1885
Pastel
Hammer Museum, Los Angeles
The Armand Hammer Collection
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

In contrast with his numerous ballet works, Degas produced relatively few studies of the spectators at the Opera and other theatrical venues. Theatre box is one of his most captivating studies of the magical effects created by artificial stage lighting. Its contrast between the shadowy reality of the viewer in her dimmer theatre box and the vividly illuminated fantasy being performed before her onstage is as compelling as it is radical.

 

Edgar Degas. 'La Loge [Theatre box]' 1880

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
La Loge [Theatre box] (installation view)
1880
Pastel and oil on cardboard on canvas
The Lewis Collection, Houston
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

When exhibited at the fifth ‘impressionist’ group exhibition in Paris in 1880, this pastel attracted the attention of the critic Charles Ephrussi, who wrote glowingly of how it shoed ‘a profound knowledge of the relations between tones, producing the most unexpected and curious effects: the wine-coloured draperies of the spectator’s box and the yellowish glow of the footlights are projected onto the face of a diminutive theatre-goer, who thus finds herself illuminated by violet and brilliant yellow; the impression is strange, but captured with perfect reality’.

 

Edgar Degas. 'Theatre box' 1880

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Theatre box
1880
Pastel and oil on cardboard on canvas
66.0 x 53.0cm
The Lewis Collection

 

Edgar Degas. 'In a café (The Absinthe drinker)' c. 1875-76

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
In a café (The Absinthe drinker)
c. 1875-76
Oil on canvas
92 x 68.5cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris (RF 1984)
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay) / Martine Beck-Coppola

 

 

Edgar Degas biography

Edgar Degas was born in 1834 into a wealthy banking family. Unlike many of his contemporaries, his family were supportive of his artistic talent and desire to become an artist.

Degas resisted being labelled an ‘Impressionist’ yet was at the core of the movement’s most important manifestations. Classically trained, Degas initially aspired to be a painter of historical narratives. As he matured, however, he made the depiction of daily life the central focus of his art. He was drawn primarily to the human figure engaged in movement and work, sketching on the spot then working up his finished compositions indoors in his studio. Degas’ obsession with the theatre and ballet in particular enabled him to explore his fascination with artificial light, which set him apart from the other Impressionists who preferred to work out-of-doors capturing the transient effects of natural daylight.

Degas absorbed many diverse influences, from Japanese prints to Italian Mannerism, and reinterpreted them in innovative ways. Degas obsessively revisited and experimented with his favourite themes which saw him fashion varied and unusual vantage points and asymmetrical framing. His depictions of ballet dancers alone number in the hundreds. Such endeavours helped him to achieve the innovative and distinctive style which is explored in Degas: A New Vision.

Degas served in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 and began to experience eyesight deterioration by the late 1880s. He increasingly took up sculpture as his eyesight weakened. In his later years, he was preoccupied with the subject of women bathing unselfconsciously and developed an expressive use of colour and line that may have arisen due to his deteriorating vision.

Degas continued working to as late as 1912. He died five years later in 1917, at the age of eighty-three.

 

 

All that gesture in theatre summon,
or that the agile and mendacious tongue
of ballet speaks to those who comprehend
the silent eloquence of limbs in motion.

.
Edgar Degas

 

 

Edgar Degas. 'Rehearsal hall at the Opéra, rue Le Peletier' 1872

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Rehearsal hall at the Opéra, rue Le Peletier
1872
Oil on canvas
32.7 x 46.3cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

 

Edgar Degas. 'The dance rehearsal' c. 1870–72

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
The dance rehearsal
c. 1870-72
Oil on canvas
40.6 x 54.6cm
The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.
Gift of anonymous donor, initiated 2001, completed 2006

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at left, The rehearsal (c. 1874), and at right The dance class (c. 1873)
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Edgar Degas. 'The rehearsal' c. 1874 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
The rehearsal (installation view)
c. 1874
Oil on canvas
58.4 x 83.8cm
Lent by Glasgow Life (Glasgow Museums) on behalf of Glasgow City Council: from the Burrell Collection with the approval of the Burrell Trustees
© CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Edgar Degas. 'The rehearsal' c. 1874

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
The rehearsal
c. 1874
Oil on canvas
58.4 x 83.8 cm
Lent by Glasgow Life (Glasgow Museums) on behalf of Glasgow City Council: from the Burrell Collection with the approval of the Burrell Trustees
© CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

 

 

While the friendships he established in the 1860s with musicians such as Désiré Dihau, a bassoon player with the Paris Opéra, brought Degas into the orbit of ballet performances in the French capital, the full extent of his access to this world prior to the mid-1880s remains unknown. This may explain why his many depictions of dancers practising backstage in rehearsal rooms in the 1870s were his own studio inventions rather than accurate depictions of the Opéra’s foyers de la danse.

Degas’ favourite theatrical venues – the Opéra in the rue le Peletier that was destroyed by fire in October 1873 and its replacement, the Palais Garnier, which opened in 1875 – were both located in the 9th arrondissement, close to his studio. Degas exhibited ballet compositions at the ‘impressionist’ group exhibitions from 1874 onwards, all the while resisting the label, arguing that his own art was Realist and meticulously crafted in the studio instead of spontaneously created before nature. When the Galeries Durand-Ruel began acquiring Degas’ paintings in 1872, the artist’s first sales at this time were of ballet subjects. Unlike the romantic perspective through which these scenes are viewed today, Degas’ contemporaries recognised in them a rejection of the surface glamour of ballet’s front of house in favour of a serious study of the gritty reality of life backstage. There, junior impoverished dancers jostled for attention from their trainers, all too frequently prostituting themselves on the side so they could afford to stay in competition for coveted stardom.

While The rehearsal and other similar depictions such as The dance class, c. 1873, are ostensibly based on direct observations of dance rehearsals at the Paris Opéra in the rue Le Peletier, their different treatments of architecture hint at the degree to which Degas constructed their compositions from memory. This painting shows a radical cropping of the spiral staircase at left connecting the stage level to the rehearsal room, down which the disembodied limbs of young ballerinas descend. In the background to the right the celebrated dance instructor Jules Perrot can be seen.

 

Edgar Degas. 'The dance class' c. 1873

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
The dance class
c. 1873
Oil on canvas
47.6 x 62.2cm
National Gallery, Washington D.C.
Corcoran Collection (William A. Clark Collection)
© Courtesy of National Gallery, Washington

 

Edgar Degas. 'The dance class' c. 1873 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
The dance class (installation view)
c. 1873
Oil on canvas
47.6 x 62.2cm
National Gallery, Washington D.C.
Corcoran Collection (William A. Clark Collection)
© Courtesy of National Gallery, Washington
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Edgar Degas. 'Dancers on the stage' c. 1899 (installation view)

Edgar Degas. 'Dancers on the stage' c. 1899 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Dancers on the stage (installation views)
c. 1899
Oil on canvas
76.0 x 82.0cm
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon
Legs Jacqueline Delubac, 1997
Photos: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Edgar Degas. 'Dancers on the stage' c. 1899

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Dancers on the stage
c. 1899
Oil on canvas
76.0 x 82.0cm
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon
Legs Jacqueline Delubac, 1997
Image © Lyon MBA – Photo RMN / Ojeda, Le Mage

 

Edgar Degas. 'Dancers on the stage' (detail) c. 1899

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Dancers on the stage (detail)
c. 1899
Oil on canvas
76.0 x 82.0cm
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon
Legs Jacqueline Delubac, 1997

 

 

Dancers on the stage looks back to the experiments with pictorial space and repoussoir compositional staging that had so characterised Degas’s ballet works of the 1870s and early 1880s. Repoussoir was a favourite technique for Degas, a technique in which an object place prominently in the foreground of a work serves to emphasise the recession of physical space in the rest of the composition. In an unusual choice for the artist, Degas shows here a dress rehearsal on stage. The attention of the dancers is focused upon the diminutive figure of the dave master in the far left background whose presence ignites a diagonal magnetism that animates the whole painting.

 

Curator Dr Ted Gott talking to the media

 

Dr Ted Gott, Senior Curator of International Art at the National Gallery of Victoria talking to the media, standing in front of Degas’s Dancer with bouquets c. 1895-1900
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Edgar Degas. 'Dancer with bouquets' c. 1895-1900 (installation view)

Edgar Degas. 'Dancer with bouquets' c. 1895-1900 (installation view detail)

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Dancer with bouquets (installation view and detail)
c. 1895-1900
Oil on canvas
180.3 x 152.4 cm
Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia
Gift of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr, in memory of Della Viola Forker Chrysler
Photos: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Edgar Degas. 'Dancer with bouquets' c. 1895-1900

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Dancer with bouquets
c. 1895-1900
Oil on canvas
180.3 x 152.4cm
Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia
Gift of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr, in memory of Della Viola Forker Chrysler

 

 

Sculptures

Although Degas exhibited only one sculpture during his lifetime, The little fourteen-year old dancer, he worked in this medium in privacy in his studio from the 1860s until the 1910s. His primary subjects were thoroughbred racehorses, female dances and women at the toilette, and he modelled his sculptures in wax, over steel wire and cork armatures. Never satisfied, he made, destroyed and remade them repeatedly. As Degas’s eyesight deteriorated in his later years, making three-dimensional figures fulfilled a physical and emotional need that transcended any desire to perfect a finished object; he allegedly side that sculpture was ‘a blind man’s trade’.

After Degas’s death in 1917, some 150 wax sculptures were found in his studio, some broken but many intact. His heirs subsequently authorised the casting in bronze of seventy-four of the most intact of Degas’s sculptures. While many of Degas’s original wax sculptures still survive, they are too fragile to travel. These bronzes allow wider audiences today to engage with some of the most beautiful sculptures of the nineteenth century.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne showing the sculpture cases
Photos: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Edgar Degas. 'The tub' 1888-89

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
The tub
1888-89, cast 1919-32
Bronze
22.5 x 45.0 x 42.0cm
Czestochowski/Pingeot 26 (cast S)
Museu de Arte de São Paulo, Assis Chateaubriand
Donated by Alberto José Alves, Alberto Alves Filho and Alcino Ribeiro de Lima

 

Edgar Degas. 'The masseuse' c. 1896–1911

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
The masseuse
c. 1896-1911, cast 1919-32
Bronze
43.0 x 38.0 x 30.0cm
Czestochowski/Pingeot 55 (cast S)
Museu de Arte de São Paulo, Assis Chateaubriand
Donated by Alberto José Alves, Alberto Alves Filho and Alcino Ribeiro de Lima

 

Edgar Degas. 'Seated woman wiping her left side' c. 1901–11

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Seated woman wiping her left side
c. 1901-11, cast 1919-32
Bronze
35.0 x 30.5 x 30.4cm
Czestochowski/Pingeot 46 (cast S)
Museu de Arte de São Paulo, Assis Chateaubriand
Donated by Alberto José Alves, Alberto Alves Filho and Alcino Ribeiro de Lima

 

Edgar Degas. 'Dancer adjusting the shoulder strap of her bodice' 1882–95

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Dancer adjusting the shoulder strap of her bodice
1882-95, cast 1919-32
Bronze
35.2 x 15.9 x 11.8cm
Czestochowski/Pingeot 64 (cast S)
Museu de Arte de São Paulo, Assis Chateaubriand
Donated by Alberto José Alves, Alberto Alves Filho and Alcino Ribeiro de Lima

 

Edgar Degas. 'Dancer looking at the sole of her right foot' (Second study) c. 1900-10

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Dancer looking at the sole of her right foot (Second study)
c. 1900-10, cast 1919-37 or later
Bronze
47.3 x 24.3 x 20.8cm
Czestochowski/Pingeot 59 (cast T)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by Leigh Clifford AO and Sue Clifford, 2016

 

Edgar Degas. 'The laundress ironing' c. 1882-86 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
The laundress ironing (installation view)
c. 1882-86
Oil on canvas
64.8 x 66.7cm
Reading Public Museum, Pennsylvania Gift, Miss Martha Elizabeth Dick Estate
© Courtesy of the Reading Public Museum, Pennsylvania
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Edgar Degas. 'The laundress ironing' c. 1882-86

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
The laundress ironing
c. 1882-86
Oil on canvas
64.8 x 66.7cm
Reading Public Museum, Pennsylvania Gift, Miss Martha Elizabeth Dick Estate
© Courtesy of the Reading Public Museum, Pennsylvania

 

Edgar Degas. 'The Conversation' 1895 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
The Conversation (installation view)
1895
Pastel
65.0 x 50.0cm (sheet)
Acquavella Galleries
© Courtesy of Acquavella Galleries
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Edgar Degas. 'The Conversation' 1895

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
The Conversation
1895
Pastel
65.0 x 50.0cm (sheet)
Acquavella Galleries
© Courtesy of Acquavella Galleries

 

 

Walter Sickert recalled Degas speaking of his obsession with observing women at their most private moments. He wanted to look at their private activities through keyholes, according to Sickert: ‘He said that painters too much made of women formal portraits, whereas their hundred and one gestures, their chatteries, &c., should inspire an infinite variety of design’. The Conversation reflects the artist’s love of Japanese woodblock prints and their frequently intimate subject matter. The specifics of setting are only alluded to in this exquisite pastel, the emphasis being placed instead upon the close relationship between these two elegant Parisiennes.

 

Edgar Degas. 'Rose Caron' c. 1892 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Rose Caron (installation view)
c. 1892
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

Women at their toilettes: 1880s and 1890s

In 1875 pastel became one of Degas’s favourite techniques. Gustave Moreau had introduced him to this medium during their time together in Italy during the late 1850s, and the increasing interest in pastel in artistic circles during the 1870s influenced Degas’s choice to explore its potential. At the eighth and last ‘impressionist’ group exhibition in 1886 Degas exhibited a suite of pastel studies of women bathing that challenged conventional notions of feminine beauty in their depiction of non-idealised jolie-laide (unconventionally beautiful) models. George Moore wrote tellingly of these nudes: ‘The effect is prodigious. Degas has done what Baudelaire did – he has invented un frisson nouveau (a new sensation)’.

Because intimate access to female ablutions was rarely experience by husbands in bourgeois married life at the time, it was assumed by critics and audiences that Degas’s female nudes were performing their toilettes in a brothel setting. The close observation of undressed women engaged in private acts of washing and drying themselves led Degas’s ongoing status as a bachelor to become a topic of speculation in both the art world and wider social circles.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with, from left to right, Nude woman lying down (c. 1901), Dancer in a leotard (c. 1896) and Toilette after the bath (c. 1890)
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at centre, The Bather (La Baigneuse), c. 1895
Photos: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Edgar Degar. 'La Baigneuse [The bather]' c. 1895

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
The Bather (La Baigneuse) (installation view)
c. 1895
Pastel and charcoal on paper
Bequest, Henry K. Dick Estate
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Edgar Degas. 'Femme a la toilette [Woman at he toilette] c. 1895-1900 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Femme à la toilette [Woman at he toilette] (installation view)
c. 1895-1900
Oil on canvas
Private collection
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Edgar Degas. 'Femme a la toilette [Woman at her toilette] c. 1894 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Femme à la toilette [Woman at her toilette] (installation view)
c. 1894
Charcoal and pastel on paper
956 x 1099mm
Tate, London
Presented by C. Frank Stoop 1933
© Tate, London 2016
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Edgar Degas. 'Femme a la toilette [Woman at her toilette] c. 1894

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Femme à la toilette [Woman at her toilette]
c. 1894
Charcoal and pastel on paper
956 x 1099mm
Tate, London
Presented by C. Frank Stoop 1933
© Tate, London 2016

 

 

The repetitive work involved in a woman’s daily maintenance of her hair appealed greatly to Degas. As early as 187 he asked whether he could observe Geneviève Halévy, a cousin of his old school friend Ludovic, performing this private tasks. Woman at her toilette is a fascinating study of a woman’s labour-intensive morning routine, drawn with a sense of pathos and human frailty. As well as reflecting the artist’s love of Japanese woodblock prints with their frequently intimate subject matter, in this late drawing Degas applied his vivid pigments with an almost sculptural intensity, building them up as though modelling form with his fingers.

 

Edgar Degar. 'Woman in a Tub' 1883

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Woman in a Tub
c. 1883
Pastel on paper
70.0 x 70.0cm
Tate, London
Bequeathed by Mrs A.F. Kessler 1983
© Tate, London 2016

 

Edgar Degas. 'Woman at her bath' c. 1895

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Woman at her bath
c. 1895
Oil on canvas
71.1 x 88.9cm
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto
Purchase, Frank P. Wood Endowment, 1956
© 2016 Art Gallery of Ontario

 

Edgar Degas. 'Woman at her bath' c. 1895 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Woman at her bath (installation view)
c. 1895
Oil on canvas
71.1 x 88.9cm
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto
Purchase, Frank P. Wood Endowment, 1956
© 2016 Art Gallery of Ontario
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Edgar Degas. 'Woman seated on the edge of the bath sponging her neck' 1880-95 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Woman seated on the edge of the bath sponging her neck (installation view)
1880-95
Oil and essence on paper mounted to canvas
52.2 x 67.5 cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Edgar Degas. 'Woman seated on the edge of the bath sponging her neck' 1880-95

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Woman seated on the edge of the bath sponging her neck
1880-95
Oil and essence on paper mounted to canvas
52.2 x 67.5cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at right, Femme au Tub [Nude woman drying herself] c. 1884-86
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Edgar Degas. 'Femme au Tub [Nude woman drying herself]' c. 1884-86 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Femme au Tub [Nude woman drying herself] (installation view)
c. 1884-86
Oil on canvas
Brooklyn Museum, New York
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

Horse racing

 

Broken staccato heralds its approach,
strong, steaming breath, as early as the dawn,
kept to its straining pace by stable lad,
the fine colt gallops throwing up the dew.

.
Edgar Degas

 

 

Edgar Degas. 'Out of the paddock (Racehorses)' c. 1871-72, reworked c. 1874-78

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Out of the paddock (Racehorses)
c. 1871-72, reworked c. 1874-78
Oil on wood panel
32.5 x 40.5cm
Private collection

 

Edgar Degas. 'Chevaux de courses [Racehorses]' c. 1895-99 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Chevaux de courses [Racehorses] (installation view)
c. 1895-99
Pastel on tracing paper on cardboard
55.8 x 64.8cm
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
Purchase 1950
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Edgar Degas. 'Chevaux de courses [Racehorses]' c. 1895-99

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Racehorses
c. 1895-99
Pastel on tracing paper on cardboard
55.8 x 64.8 cm
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
Purchased 1950
Photo © NGC

 

Edgar Degas. 'Before the race' c. 1883-90

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Before the race
c. 1883-90
Pastel
49.0 x 62.0cm (sheet)
Private collection

 

 

Photography

By the time he began making photographs in 1895, Degas was 61 years old and the eighth and final Impressionist exhibition was a decade behind him. Daniel Halévy, son of his old friends Ludovic and Louise Halévy, introduced Degas to photography, prompting the artist to acquire a camera that required glass plates and a tripod. In a burst of creative energy that lasted less than five years, he made a body of photographs of which fewer than 50 survive…

Exactly why Degas took up photography remains unknown. Clearly, photography provided a new pair of eyes during the period when his eyesight was failing. The illness and death of his sister, Marguerite, in 1895 and his brother Achille in 1893 may also have played a role. Photographs were for Degas a powerful tool of memory to recall his loved ones, and the activity of photographing bound him closely to an extended family-the Halévys-that embraced him in his time of grief…

Degas often illuminated his subjects with a single bright light source. The figures seem to emerge from darkness. In a series of individual portraits he made of Daniel and Louise Halévy in the autumn of 1895, each sitter is pictured in the same armchair in their home, under this Rembrandtesque light. They are seen in original contact prints (about 3 x 4 inches) and in enlargements. Altogether, these images show the artist’s picture-making process and reveal Degas’ manipulations of space, scale, focus, and emotional effect. In Louise Halévy Reading to Degas (J. Paul Getty Museum), another enlargement from a contact print done about the same time, Degas conveys unusual intimacy. It shows a vulnerable man’s dependence upon a friend in reading the newspaper at a time when his eyesight was failing.

Text from the J. Paul Getty Museum

 

“These days, Degas abandons himself entirely to his new passion for photography,” wrote an artist friend in autumn 1895, the moment of the great Impressionist painter’s most intense exploration of photography. Degas’s major surviving photographs little known even among devotees of the artist’s paintings and pastels, are insightfully analysed and richly reproduced for the first time in this volume, which accompanies an exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Bibliothéque Nationale de France.

Degas’s photographic figure studies, portraits of friends and family, and self-portraits – especially those in which lamp-lit figures emerge from darkness – are imbued with a Symbolist spirit evocative of realms more psychological than physical. Most were made in the evenings, when Degas transformed dinner parties into photographic soirees, requisitioning the living rooms of his friends, arranging oil lamps, and directing the poses of dinner guests enlisted as models. “He went back and forth … running from one end of the room to the other with an expression of infinite happiness,” wrote Daniel Halévy, the son of Degas’s close friends Ludovic and Louise Halévy, describing one such evening. “At half-past eleven everybody left; Degas, surrounded by three laughing girls, carried his camera as proudly as a child carrying a rifle.”

Text from The Met website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at right, Paul Gobillard, Jeannie Gobillard, Julie Manet, and Geneviève Mallarmé (16 December 1895)
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Edgar Degas. 'Self-portrait with Zoé Closier' probably Autumn 1895

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Self-portrait with Zoé Closier
probably Autumn 1895
Gelatin silver print
18.2 x 24.2cm (image and sheet)
Daniel 20a
Bibliothèque nationale de France

 

Edgar Degas. 'Self-portrait with Zoé Closier' probably Autumn 1895 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Self-portrait with Zoé Closier (installation view)
probably Autumn 1895
Gelatin silver print
18.2 x 24.2cm (image and sheet)
Daniel 20a
Bibliothèque nationale de France
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Edgar Degas. 'Self-portrait with Bartholome's Weeping girl' probably Autumn 1895 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Self-portrait with Bartholomé’s Weeping girl (installation view)
probably Autumn 1895
Gelatin silver print
Musée d’Orsay, Paris
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Edgar Degas. 'Paul Gobillard, Jeannie Gobillard, Julie Manet, and Genevieve Mallarme' 16 December 1895

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Paul Gobillard, Jeannie Gobillard, Julie Manet, and Geneviève Mallarmé (installation view)
16 December 1895
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Edgar Degas. 'Daniel Halévy' 14 October 1895

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Daniel Halévy
14 October 1895
Gelatin silver print
40.0 x 29.4cm (image and sheet)
Daniel 5b
Musée d’Orsay, Paris
Gift of the children of Mme Halévy-Joxe (PHO 1994-1 2)
Photo © RMN – Hervé Lewandowski

 

 

Late works

Edgar Degas. 'Three dancers' 1896-1905

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Les Trois Danseuses [Three dancers]
1896-1905
Pastel
51.0 x 47.0cm
Lent by Glasgow Life (Glasgow Museums) on behalf of Glasgow City Council: from the Burrell Collection with the approval of the Burrell Trustees (35.249)
© CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

 

Pastel entitled Les Trois Danseuses, depicting three ballet dancers, apparently making an entry, wearing yellow ballet skirts.

 

Edgar Degas. 'Group of dancers (red skirts)' 1895-1900 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Group of dancers (red skirts) [Les Jupes Rouges] (installation view)
1895-1900
Pastel
77.0 x 58.0cm
Lent by Glasgow Life (Glasgow Museums) on behalf of Glasgow City Council: from the Burrell Collection with the approval of the Burrell Trustees
© CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Edgar Degas. 'Group of dancers (red skirts)' 1895-1900

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Group of dancers (red skirts) [Les Jupes Rouges]
1895-1900
Pastel
77.0 x 58.0cm
Lent by Glasgow Life (Glasgow Museums) on behalf of Glasgow City Council: from the Burrell Collection with the approval of the Burrell Trustees
© CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

 

 

Pastel entitled Les Jupes Rouges, depicting three ballet dancers in red skirts – in posing practice.

Throughout his career Degas produced more than 700 works in pastel. In the 1870s he often worked ‘wet’, employing pastel à l’eau (crushing pastel sticks to powder which, mixed with water, could be applied with a brush) to create smooth, seamless textures. By the mid 1890s he worked increasingly with layers of pastel cement together over applications of fixative. This created shimmering optical effects that celebrated the crumbly texture of the pastel medium.

 

Edgar Degas. 'Dancers at the barre' 1900

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Dancers at the barre
1900
Charcoal and pastel on tracing paper on cardboard
111.2 x 95.6cm
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
Purchased 1921
Photo © NGC

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at right, Dancers at the barre (1900)
Photos: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at right, The Russian dancer (1895)
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Edgar Degas. 'Dancers at a rehearsal' c. 1895-98 (installation view)

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Dancers at a rehearsal (installation view)
c. 1895-98
Von der Heydt-Museum, Wuppertal
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

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06
Sep
16

Exhibition: ‘Degas: A New Vision’ at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne Part 1

Exhibition dates: 24th June – 18th September 2016

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at right, Female nude
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

A magnificent exhibition of the work of Edgar Degas at NGV International. So nice to see a blockbuster without papered walls or patterned floors, an exhibition that just allows the work to speak for itself. Review to follow in part 2 of the posting.

“Il y a quelque chose plus terrible encore que le bourgeois – c’est l’homme qui nous singe [There’s something even more awful than the bourgeois – it’s the man who apes us]”

Edgar Degas as noted down by Oscar Wilde when he met him in 1883.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish the artwork and photographs in the posting. All installation photographs © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Edgar Degas. 'Female nude' 1905

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Female nude (installation view)
1905
Charcoal and brown pastel
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto
Gift of Mr Noah Torno, 2003
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Edgar Degas. 'Thérèse De Gas' c. 1863

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Thérèse De Gas
c. 1863
Oil on canvas
89.5 x 66.7cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris (RF 2650)
Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay)

 

 

At the start of the 1860s Degas’s family still acted as his primary models for portraiture. In early 1863 he painted this engagement portrait of his sister Thérèse. He shows her as a young woman all dressed up to go out; in fact, to go abroad. Timidly she show off her engagement ring before a view of Naples, her face serene, the sky blue with future happiness. She was to move to Naples after her marriage in Paris on 11 April 1863 to her first cousin Edmondo Morbilli, the son of Rose Morbilli, the sister of Degas’s father.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with, in the centre, Degas’s father listening to Lorenzo Pagans playing the guitar
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Edgar Degas. 'Degas's father listening to Lorenzo Pagans playing the guitar' after 1874

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Degas’s father listening to Lorenzo Pagans playing the guitar
after 1874
Oil on canvas
81.6 x 65.1cm
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Bequest of John T. Spaulding
© 2016 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Edgar Degas: Self-portrait (two of four states) (installation view)
1857
Etching and drypoint
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, H.O.
Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H.O. Havemeyer, 1929
© The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Edgar Degas. 'Edgar Degas: Self-portrait' (third of four states) 1857

 

Edgar Degas. 'Edgar Degas: Self-portrait' (third of four states) 1857

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Edgar Degas: Self-portrait (third of four states) (detail)
1857
Etching and drypoint
23.0 x 14.4cm (plate), 34.9 x 25.7cm (sheet),
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, H.O.
Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H.O. Havemeyer, 1929
© The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

While studying in Rome as a young man degas became increasingly interested in printmaking and also in the portraits of Rembrandt, which he first saw in publication by the French art writer Charles Blanc. The effects of light and shadow in Rembrandt’s portraits inspired Degas to undertake a series of self-portraits including this, his only self-portrait etching, which he produced in four separate states. He experimented with altering the appearance of these etchings through leaving varying amounts of ink on the plate before printing. Degas was very pleased with this exercise, and gave away examples of these trials to his friends.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne including at left, Thérèse De Gas (c. 1855-56)
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

Traces of Ingres’s influence on the young Degas are clearly visible here in the clean, firm contours delineating the face of his hen fifteen-year-old sister Thérèse De Gas. Offsetting the crisp edge drawn along her cheek is a subtle modelling of the chin and cheeks produced with smudged pencil, recalling the sfumato (soft or blurred) effects of Leonardo da Vinci.

 

Edgar Degas. 'Thérèse De Gas' c. 1855-56

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Thérèse De Gas
c. 1855-56
Black crayon and graphite on brown paper
32.0 x 28.4cm (sheet)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Julia Knight Fox Fund
© 2016 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Edgar Degas. 'René De Gas' 1855

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
René De Gas (installation view)
1855
Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts
Purchased 1935
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

Degas’s family members were his principal models in the early years of his career. His first art lessons were undertaken with Louis Lamothe, a loyal follower of the Neoclassical master Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. This portrait of his younger brother René, the family darling, betrays Degas’s resolve to follow in the footsteps of his mentor Ingres, whose work was exhibited at the Exposition Universelle in September 1854. Degas visited the elderly master of Neoclassical portraiture in 1855, the year the he undertook this portrait. Preparatory drawings show that degas radically simplified his composition, eliminating a complex interior setting in favour of a dramatic dark background reminiscent of the Mannerist Old Master, Angolo Bronzino.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at left, Mendiante romaine [Roman beggar women]
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Mendiante romaine [Roman beggar women] (installation view)
1857
Oil on canvas
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Purchased 1960
Lent by Birmingham Museums Trust on behalf of Birmingham City Council
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

This work is both a portrait and a genre scene, but it leans towards the former in that there is little trace of narrative, local colour or exotic reference. Degas details the marks of old age, fatigue and poverty – wrinkled skin, gnarled hands, the motley garments of a pauper – along with the faded colours that he recorded in a contemporary notebook: ‘figure of an old woman / very tanned skin, white veil / cloak thrown over / shoulder faded brown / faded free dress / a little like the back wall / of my room / yellow apron’

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at centre, Family portrait also called The Bellelli family 1867
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Edgar Degas. 'Family portrait' also called 'The Bellelli family' 1867

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Family portrait also called The Bellelli family (installation view)
1867
Oil on canvas
201 x 249.5cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris (RF 2210)
© Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Edgar Degas. 'Family portrait' also called 'The Bellelli family' 1867

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Family portrait also called The Bellelli family
1867
Oil on canvas
201 x 249.5cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris (RF 2210)
© Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt

 

 

In 1858-59, during an Italian sojourn, Degas stayed in Florence for nine months with his aunt Laure and her husband, Baron Gennaro Bellelli. There he embarked on the largest painting he would ever create – a monumental portrait of Laure, Gennaro and their daughters, Giovanna and Giulia. A study of marital discontent presented on the scale of a history painting, Family portrait, also called The Bellelli family, reflected Degas’ recent study of the dignified sitters in the Flemish master Anthony van Dyck’s early seventeenth-century portraits, which he had seen in Genoa. He worked on this painting continuously after his return to Paris, completing a final version of it for the Paris Salon of 1867. Alive to the unhappy marital dynamics between Laure and her husband, a political exile from Naples, Degas showed his morose relatives in their rented apartment, physically separated from one another by items of furniture and Giovanna (on the left) and Giulia. Although expecting her third child, Laure Bellelli (la Baronne) stands proud and aloof, in full mourning for her recently deceased father (Degas’ grandfather) Hilaire Degas, whose portrait hangs on the wall behind her. Meanwhile, her husband, conspicuously not in mourning, sits in comfort by the fire. Adults and children are compressed into a shallow plane, an airless, static vacuum. The uneasy ambience is accentuated by Giulia’s absent leg and the family dog, shown without its head, in the right foreground.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at left, Monsieur Reulle (1861) and at right, Portrait de jeune femme [Portrait of a young woman] (1867)
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

In this portrait of Monsieur Ruelle, Degas shows his father’s former bank cashier as a man of seriousness and restrained sophistication, dressed in a dinner suit and black bow tie as if preparing to go the opera. In its combination of informality and masculine severity the portrait conforms to a convention among nineteenth-century Realist artists of portraying each other and their friends as modern men of leisure and the metropolis.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Étude pour Jeunes Spartiates s’exerçant à la lutte [Study for The young Spartans exercising] (installation view)
c. 1860-61
Oil on paper on paper on cardboard
Harvard Art Museum/Fogg Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Friends of the Fogg Museum
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

On returning to Paris from Italy in 1860 Degas began work on scenes from the Bible and ancient history, including this preparatory oil sketch for a vignette from an ancient greek subject. In the foreground two groups of adolescents are seen confronting each other on the plains of Sparta, watched over by the white-haired law-giver Lycurgus and the teenagers’ mothers. The subject has conventionally been read as the exercises traditionally undertaken by Spartans in preparation for war, but it has also been suggested that it represents Spartan courtship rites. In the Life of Lycurgus it was noted that display of physical prowess by girls assisted young men in choosing strong mothers, who would produce strong children.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

installation-p

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Petites filles spartiates provoquant des garçons [Young Spartan girls challenging boys] (installation views)
c. 1860
Oil on canvas
The Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Edgar Degas. 'Edmondo and Thérèse Morbilli' c. 1865

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Edmondo and Thérèse Morbilli
c. 1865
Oil on canvas
116.5 x 88.3 cm
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Gift of Robert Treat Paine, 2nd
© 2016 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

An exhibition of one of the world’s most beloved artists, Edgar Degas, opens to the public from tomorrow at NGV International showcasing significant works never-before-seen in Australia.

In its world premiere, Degas: A New Vision presents the largest display of Degas’ works to ever come to Australia, and forms the most comprehensive retrospective of the artist’s oeuvre in decades. Featuring more than 200 works, Degas: A New Vision reveals Degas’ talent in a new light; not only as a great master of painting, but also as a master of drawing, printmaking, sculpture and photography. The works travel to Melbourne from 65 lenders in more than 40 cities across the globe.

The Premier of Victoria, the Hon. Daniel Andrews MP, said, “Degas: A New Vision is a coup for the NGV and for Victoria. Local audiences will be the first in the world to experience this incredible exhibition – another example of how we are leading the way as the creative state. Part of the Melbourne Winter Masterpieces series, this exhibition continues the tradition of creating drawcard cultural events for locals and visitors and bringing must-see art to our city each year.”

Some of Degas’ most famous masterworks are presented including the bronze sculpture The little fourteen-year-old dancer, 1879-81, and In a café (The Absinthe drinker), c. 1875-76. World-renowned paintings, never-before-seen in Australia, are also exhibited such as the celebrated ballet paintings The rehearsal, c. 1874, and Finishing the arabesque, 1877, and Degas’ monumental portrait The Bellelli family, 1867.

Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV, said, “Presenting Edgar Degas’ magnificent oeuvre in a fresh and reinvigorated light showcases him as one of the defining artists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Considered one of the world’s most celebrated and significant artists, his influence upon modern and contemporary art is undeniable. Degas: A New Vision provides audiences with a rare experience to truly be immersed in the creativity and originality of his art, giving visitors a deeper and richer understanding of his brilliance.”

Degas: A New Vision is presented thematically, grouping together the subjects which Degas continually returned to throughout his career, including not only his famous ballet scenes but also arresting portraits, the nude, horse-racing, the social world of Parisian nightlife, and women at work and leisure. The exhibition also explores the great technical, conceptual and expressive freedoms that Degas achieved in his later years, and reveals his experiments with a range of mediums including sculpture and photography. This approach emphasises Degas’ obsessive and highly creative working methods, and allows visitors to enjoy the development of Degas’ art from its beginnings.

Degas was fascinated by aspects of modern life – voraciously painting Paris’ dance halls and cabarets, cafés, racetracks, opera and ballet stages. He also studied the simple, everyday gestures of working women: milliners, dressmakers and laundresses. He was drawn to explore movement that was precise and disciplined, such as that of racehorses and ballet dancers, and absorbed a diverse range of influences from Japanese prints to Italian Mannerism.

The National Gallery of Victoria is pleased to be working with the world’s pre-eminent expert on Edgar Degas, Henri Loyrette, former Director of the Musée du Louvre (2001-13) and Musée d’Orsay (1994-2001), who is principal curator of the exhibition. The National Gallery of Victoria and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, are both staging this major retrospective, which has been developed by both institutions in association with Art Exhibitions Australia. Degas: A New Vision travels to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in October 2016.

Press release from the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at centre left, Portrait of Mademoiselle Eugénie Fiocre in the ballet The Spring (1867-68) and, a centre right, Etude de nus: Mlle Fiocre dans le ballet La Source [Nude study: Mademoiselle Fiocre in the ballet The Spring) (1867-68)
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Edgar Degas. 'Portrait of Mademoiselle Eugénie Fiocre in the ballet The Spring' 1867-68

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Portrait of Mademoiselle Eugénie Fiocre in the ballet The Spring
1867-68
Oil on canvas
130.8 x 145.1cm
Brooklyn Museum, New York
Gift of James H. Post, A. Augustus Healy, and John T. Underwood, 1921

 

Edgar degas. 'Etude de nus: Mlle Fiocre dans le ballet La Source' 1867-68

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Etude de nus: Mlle Fiocre dans le ballet La Source [Nude study: Mademoiselle Fiocre in the ballet ‘The Spring’] 
(installation view)
1867-68
Oil on canvas
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at left, Portrait d’homme [Portrait of a man] (c. 1866) and a right, Victoria Dubourg (1868-69)
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

Among Degas’s circle of Realist painters were some outstanding practitioners of still life, a genre that enjoyed a resurgence of popularity following the revival of interest in the French eighteenth-century painter Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin. The identity of the man in this portrait is unknown, although he seems to be a still-life artist. He is depicted by Degas in his studio, informal seated with hands clasped, surrounded by the standard props of his trade: hunks of meat, white cloths, glassware and sketches of past still lives displayed on a wall as aides-mémoire – a masculine counterpart to the portrait of Victoria Dubourg that is also displayed here.

 

Edgar Degas. 'Victoria Dubourg' c. 1868-69

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Victoria Dubourg
c. 1868-69
Oil on canvas
81.3 x 64.8cm
Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William E. Levis

 

Edgar Degas. 'Mme Jeantaud sur sa chaise longue, avec deux chiens [Madame Jeantaud on her chaise longue, with two dogs]' 1877

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Mme Jeantaud sur sa chaise longue, avec deux chiens [Madame Jeantaud on her chaise longue, with two dogs] (installation view)
1877
Oil on canvas
Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

Berthe Marie Jeantaud was the wife of Charles Jeantaud, with whom Degas served in the artillery company under the command of Henri Rouart in 1870-71, during the chaos of the Franco-Prussian War and Paris Commune. Following Berthe Marie’s marriage to Jeantaud in 1872, Degas produced this as well as a second portrait of her. Her cousin was Vicomte Ludovic Lepic, a landscape painter and etcher who taught degas methods of manipulating plate tones in his monotypes. In this remarkable candid and economical oil sketch, Degas depicts Madame Jeantaud at home with her two small dogs at 24 rue de Téhéran.

 

Edgar Degas. 'Mme Jeantaud sur sa chaise longue, avec deux chiens [Madame Jeantaud on her chaise longue, with two dogs]' 1877 (detail)

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Mme Jeantaud sur sa chaise longue, avec deux chiens [Madame Jeantaud on her chaise longue, with two dogs] (installation view detail)
1877
Oil on canvas
Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Edgar Degas. 'Henri Rouart and his daughter Hélène' 1871–72

 

Installation view of Degas’s Henri Rouart and his daughter Hélène 1871-72
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Edgar Degas. 'Henri Rouart and his daughter Hélène' 1871-72

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Henri Rouart and his daughter Hélène
1871-72
Oil on canvas
63.5 x 74.9cm
Courtesy of Acquavalla Galleries
© Courtesy of Acquavella Galleries

 

 

So cordial were Degas’s relations with Henri Rouart and his brother Alexis, who was also an art collector, that he dined with Alexis on Tuesdays and Henri on Fridays. In 1906 Degas wrote to his sister Thérèse that the Rouarts were his only remaining family in France. This portrait of Henri with his daughter Hélène was the first of many portraits. Henri is seen here as a paterfamilias, head of his household (a role that Degas esteemed) and in front of one of his landscapes, which degas also admired enough to invite Henri to exhibit with the ‘impressionists’.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at right, Dead fox in the undergrowth (1864-68)
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Edgar Degas. 'Dead fox in the undergrowth' 1864-68

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Renard mort, sou-bois [Dead fox in the undergrowth]
1864-68
Oil on canvas
35.0 x 58.0cm
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen
Photo © RMN-Grand Palais

 

 

While his colleagues exhibition plein-air landscapes as ‘Impressionists’, degas adhered to his position as a ‘Realist’ during the 1860s and 70s, with at times awkward results. Dead fox in the undergrowth displays the powerful sense of physical presence that can be achieved by studying a dead fox in the studio under artificial light, and by using a brush to render the fox’s luscious pelt. Less convincing is the forest setting, which is invited and only roughly blocked out. Here Degas applied thin slashes of green and brown paint to suggest trees and forest floor, emulating, some have suggested, the Realist technique of Gustave Courbet.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne with at left, The little fourteen-year-old dancer (1879-81) and at centre bottom, The song rehearsal (c. 1872-73)
Photos: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Edgar Degas. 'The little fourteen-year-old dancer' 1879-81, cast 1922-37

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
The little fourteen-year-old dancer
1879-81, cast 1922-37
Bronze with cotton skirt and satin ribbon
99.0 x 35.2 x 24.5cm
Czestochowski/Pingeot 73 (cast unlettered)
Museu de Arte de São Paulo, Assis Chateaubriand
Donated by Alberto José Alves, Alberto Alves Filho and Alcino Ribeiro de Lima

 

 

At the 1881 ‘impressionist’ group exhibition Degas unveiled a large wax sculpture of an immature ballerina (of which this is a bronze version), which he provocatively clad in real clothing. Critics were scandalised, accusing him of having dredged ‘the lower depths of dance’, choosing his dancer from among the ‘most hatefully ugly’. Degas’ model, ballet student Marie Van Goethem, the daughter of a tailor and a laundress and part-time prostitute, was later to abandon her dance studies and disappear into Paris’ underworld.

Degas produced sculptures in his studio from the 1860s until the 1910s. He modelled them in wax, over steel wire and cork armatures. Never satisfied, he made, destroyed and remade them repeatedly, his primary subjects being thoroughbred racehorses, female dancers and women at their toilette. As Degas’ eyesight deteriorated in his later years, making three-dimensional figures fulfilled a physical and emotional need that transcended any desire to perfect a finished object; he allegedly said that sculpture was ‘a blind man’s trade’.

After Degas’ death in 1917, some 150 wax sculptures were found in his studio, some broken but many intact. His heirs subsequently authorised the casting in bronze, by the Adrien-A. Hébrard Foundry, Paris, and their Milanese master craftsman Albino Palazzolo, of seventy four of the most intact of Degas’ sculptures. While many of Degas’ original wax sculptures still survive, they are too fragile to travel. These bronzes allow wider audiences today to engage with some of the most beautiful sculptures of the nineteenth century.

 

Edgar Degas. 'The song rehearsal' c. 1872–73

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
The song rehearsal
c. 1872-73
Oil on canvas
81.0 x 64.9cm
House Collection, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington D.C.

 

Installation view of Edgar Degas. 'Cotton merchants in New Orleans' 1873

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Marchands de coton à la Nouvelle-Orléans [Cotton merchants in New Orleans] (installation view)
1873
Oil on linen
Harvard Art Museum/Fogg Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Gift of Herbert N. Strauss
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Edgar Degas. 'Un bureau de coton à la Nouvelle-Orléans [A cotton office in New Orleans]' (installation view) 1873

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Un bureau de coton à la Nouvelle-Orléans [A cotton office in New Orleans] (installation view)
1873
Oil on linen
Museé des Beaux-Arts, Pau
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Edgar Degas. 'Un bureau de coton à la Nouvelle-Orléans [A cotton office in New Orleans]' 1873

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Un bureau de coton à la Nouvelle-Orléans [A cotton office in New Orleans] (installation view)
1873
Oil on linen
Museé des Beaux-Arts, Pau
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

In October 1872 Degas travelled to New Orleans in the United States, where he stayed for five months with his late mother’s brother Michel Musson and the extended Musson family. The artist’s younger brothers René and Achille had already relocated there, and had opened a wine import business financed by the Parisian Degas family bank. During his stay in Louisiana, Degas painted A cotton office in New Orleans, 1873, which reflected his observations of the industry that was central to that city. This now celebrated painting, which became the first work by Degas to enter a public collection when acquired by Pau’s Musée des Beaux-Arts in 1878, depicts Michel Musson in the foreground sampling cotton fibre in the office of his cotton export business.

René and Achille De Gas appear as relaxed visitors – René reading a newspaper and Achille casually observing the other men at work – in this complex group portrait of fourteen men, which has echoes of the artist’s love of seventeenth-century Dutch guild portraits. A cotton office in New Orleans was the prototype for many of Degas’ works of the 1870s and 1880s: framing that cuts to the heart of the subject and slices through men and objects alike; a de-centred composition viewed from slightly overhead, with a steep, diagonal perspective; a depth of field that creates close-ups while miniaturising anything farther off; and contrasts provided by light sources and, more particularly, by the frequently reproduced backlighting effect.

 

Installation view of Edgar Degas. 'Courtyard of a house (New Orleans, sketch) 1873

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Cour d’une maison à la Nouvelle-Orléans [Courtyard of a house (New Orleans, sketch)] (installation view)
1873
Oil on canvas
Ordeupgaard, Copenhagen
Bequest of the Danish government, 1951
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

The partially finished state of Courtyard of a house (New Orleans, sketch) reflects Degas’s experiences in the city, as he struggled to fulfil social obligations with his American relatives. The view here looking out from a shaded interior also indicates that Degas was already experiencing problems with his eyesight, which was affected by the harsh Louisiana sunlight.

 

Edgar Degas. 'The pedicure' 1873

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
The pedicure
1873
Oil and essence on paper on canvas
61.5 x 46.5cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris (RF 1986)
Photo © RMN – Hervé Lewandowski

 

 

The young girl being attended to by a chiropodist in this painting is believed to be Joe Balfour, daughter of Degas’s widowed cousin Estelle Musson, whose husband had been killed in 1862 during the American Civil War. Degas here uses a technique he invented, peinture à l’essence (which entailed using oil pigments with most of the oil blotted away, thinned out with turpentine). Applied like watercolour, it dried with a soft matt finish that Degas preferred to the glossy sheen of traditional oil paintings.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Degas: A New Vision' at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne

Edgar Degas Interior c. 1868-69 (installation view)

 

Installation views of the exhibition Degas: A New Vision at the National Gallery of Victoria International, Melbourne showing Interior (c. 1868-69)
Photos: © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Edgar Degas. 'Interior' c. 1868-69

 

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Interior
c. 1868-69
Oil on canvas
81.3 x 114.3cm
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania
The Henry P. McIlhenny Collection in memory of Frances P. McIlhenny, 1986
© Philadelphia Museum of Art

 

 

Degas ironically referred to this painting as ‘my genre picture’, by which he understated the gravitas of this domestic scene. This drama of seeming violation perpetrated on a young working-class woman b a man displaying the clothing and posture of a young bourgeois acquired in Degas’s hands the breadth and intensity of history painting. The muted colours and dim light accentuate the unspoken violence, anguish and simmering tension between the two people. The open box on the round table at the centre of the painting is a telling symbol of lost virginity. The rosy interior of the gaping jewel-case is brutally expired by the lamp standing next to it.

 

 

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28
Nov
15

Exhibition: ‘The Greats: masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Sydney Part 2

Exhibition dates: 24th October 2015 – 14th February 2016

 

Michael Clarke, Director of the National Galleries of Scotland, with Paul Cézanne's 'The big trees' c. 1904

 

Michael Clarke, Director of the National Galleries of Scotland, with Paul Cézanne’s The big trees (c. 1904)
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

The second part of this monster two-part posting. View Part 1 of the posting.

Highlights include the delicacy and strength of the William Blake, the stunning beauty of the John Singer Sargent portrait Lady Agnew of Lochnaw (1892), the perceived movement and presence of The Reverend Robert Walker skating on Duddingston Loch by Sir Henry Raeburn (c. 1795). Watteau’s Fêtes vénitiennes (1718-19) confirmed my pleasure when looking at his paintings, the stillness, romanticism and intensity of vision while the muscularity and intensity of the painting in Constable’s The Vale of Dedham c. 1827-28 was a revelation.

Gainsborough’s pastoral River landscape with a view of a distant village (c. 1748-50) was a surprise while the impressionists did not disappoint. Favourite among the last room, though, was the joyous spaces and overlaid patches of light and colour in Paul Cézanne’s The big trees (c. 1904). One of the great treasures of the exhibition.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the AGNSW for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All installation photographs © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with at left, Sir Joshua Reynolds’ The Ladies Waldegrave (1780-81) and at right, John Singer Sargent’s Lady Agnew of Lochnaw (1892)
Photos: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with, in the corner, William Blake’s God writing upon the tables of the Covenant (c. 1805) and at right, Sir Joshua Reynolds’ The Ladies Waldegrave (1780-81)
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

William Blake (England, 1757-1827) 'God writing upon the tables of the Covenant' c. 1805

 

William Blake (England, 1757-1827)
God writing upon the tables of the Covenant (installation view)
c. 1805
Ink and watercolour over pencil and some sketching with a stylus on paper
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
William Findlay Watson Bequest, 1881
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

This superb watercolour comes from a group of over 80 illustrations to the Bible executed from Blake’s most significant and loyal patron, Thomas Butts. Artist and patron probably first met in 1799, when Butts commissioned Blake to produce 50 small tempera paintings of biblical subjects. This initial commission seems to have developed into an open-ended series of watercolours, painted over a period of nine years, for which Butts paid Blake a regular stipend. The original mount belonging to this work, now lost, was inscribed with a reference to the relevant biblical text, which in this case is Deuteronomy 9:10.

 

Sir Joshua Reynolds (England, 1723-92) 'The Ladies Waldegrave' 1780-81

 

Sir Joshua Reynolds (England, 1723-92)
The Ladies Waldegrave (installation view)
1780-81
Oil on canvas
143 x 168.3cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh Purchased with funds from the Cowan Smith Bequest and with the aid of the Art Fund, 1952
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

The first president of the Royal Academy, Reynolds worked to raise the status of portraiture in Britain by painting people in the ‘grand manner’ more commonly associated with history painting. This informal portrait, a ‘conversation piece’, features the three sisters Lady Charlotte Maria, Lady Elizabeth Laura and Lady Anna Horatia Waldegrave. Depicting interlocking figures, Reynolds subtly alludes to trios of goddesses or graces of antiquity – a reference that would have been understood by classically educated viewers of the late 18th century. Reynolds’s triple portrait was commissioned by the sitters’ great-uncle, the celebrated antiquarian, connoisseur and critic Horace Walpole.

 

John Singer Sargent (USA, 1856-1925) 'Lady Agnew of Lochnaw' 1892

John Singer Sargent (USA, 1856-1925) 'Lady Agnew of Lochnaw' 1892

John Singer Sargent (USA, 1856-1925) 'Lady Agnew of Lochnaw' 1892

 

John Singer Sargent (USA, 1856-1925)
Lady Agnew of Lochnaw (installation views)
1892
Oil on canvas
125.7 x 100.3cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased with the aid of the Cowan Smith Bequest Fund, 1925
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

One of the best-loved pictures of the National Galleries of Scotland, this portrait of 27-year old Lady Agnew of Lochnaw is the first Sargent to be exhibited in Sydney in 35 years. As one of Sargent’s most glamorous and beguiling characterisations, it was pivotal in establishing the renown of both artist and sitter. The painting was first exhibited at the Royal Academy exhibition in 1893 to wide public acclaim and cemented Sargent’s position as a sought-after, fashionable portraitist of high society. For Lady Agnew, it launched her as a society beauty who later established her own private salon in London. Ironically, the costs of sustaining such fine style led Lady Agnew to sell her own portrait to the Scottish National Gallery in 1925.

In an ornate plush chair and surrounded by swathes of Chinese fabric, Lady Agnew gazes out at the viewer, confidently but enigmatically. Her pose is gracious, but relaxed. The chair and fabric were Sargent’s own props, and along with the generous, gauzy swathes of the sitter’s dress they give the painting a sense of comfort and luxury. Sargent’s brushstrokes are wide and fluid, and in some areas the canvas shows through the thin, sketchy layers of paint. But it is also very carefully composed to present Lady Agnew as an assured and elegant society woman.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with at left, John Singer Sargent’s Lady Agnew of Lochnaw (1892) and at right, Sir Henry Raeburn’s Reverend Robert Walker skating on Duddingston Loch (c. 1795)
Photos: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Sir Henry Raeburn (Scotland, 1756-1823) 'The Reverend Robert Walker skating on Duddingston Loch' c. 1795

 

Sir Henry Raeburn (Scotland, 1756-1823)
The Reverend Robert Walker skating on Duddingston Loch (installation view)
c. 1795
Oil on canvas
76.2 x 63.5cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Raeburn was the leading Scottish portrait painter of his time. This striking portrait of Robert Walker (1755-1808), minister of Edinburgh’s Canongate Church and a leading member of the city’s exclusive skating society, has come to be regarded as one of Raeburn’s greatest works. It is the most famous painting in the Scottish National Gallery, often described as the quintessential Scottish painting, and is listed in a recent publication as one of the 1000 paintings you must see before you die.

Its simple composition bestows the painting with an extraordinary visual impact. Walker is shown gliding across the icy surface of one of the small lochs near Edinburgh, his arms folded nonchalantly across his chest and his right leg lifted balletically behind him. Raeburn has cleverly created the effect of ice scored by the skater’s blades by scratching back into the paint surface. Unlike most of his artistic peers, Raeburn received no formal artistic education, instead pursuing other academic studies before being apprenticed to a local goldsmith at the age of sixteen.

Raeburn’s approach to painting reflected this unusual path into his profession. He avoided the meticulous production of preparatory drawings and sketches, instead preferring to work straight onto the canvas with minimal formal planning. While this approach invariably meant having to deal with compositional changes in the process of painting, it also enabled Raeburn to produce portraits that were unrivalled in their directness and spontaneity.

 

Sir Henry Raeburn (Scotland, 1756-1823) 'The Reverend Robert Walker skating on Duddingston Loch' c. 1795 (detail)

 

Sir Henry Raeburn (Scotland, 1756-1823)
The Reverend Robert Walker skating on Duddingston Loch (detail)
c. 1795
Oil on canvas
76.2 x 63.5cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Botticelli. Cézanne. Gauguin. Leonardo. Monet. Raphael. Titian. Turner. Velázquez. Vermeer.

One of the most significant collections of European old master paintings ever seen in Australia is now open at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, providing a once in a lifetime opportunity for Australians to contemplate the extraordinary quality of over 70 masterful paintings and drawings from across four centuries. The Greats marks the first time these artworks have been exhibited in Australia, with the exception of Rembrandt’s A woman in bed (c. 1647) and Seurat’s La Luzerne, Saint-Denis (1884-85).

Deputy Premier and Minister for the Arts, Troy Grant, said with works by some of the world’s most well-known artists, The Greats alongside the Art Gallery of NSW’s own impressive collection is bound to draw big crowds this summer. “An exhibition of this calibre is a real coup for the State and builds on our standing as the cultural capital of Australia,” Minister Grant said. “These incredible works from Scotland may never be on Australian soil again, so art-lovers and novices alike should visit the Art Gallery of NSW and see this historic exhibition while they can.”

Michael Brand, director of the Art Gallery of NSW said The Greats is a rich and intimate show of remarkable quality. “Each masterpiece – whether it be Titian’s luminous Venus rising from the sea (c. 1520-25) or Gauguin’s striking Three Tahitians (1899) – tells its own unique story. Through robust and engaging public programs, the Gallery looks forward to sharing these stories with visitors of all ages.”

The Greats: masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland unfolds in rooms devoted to the art of the Italian Renaissance, the Baroque in Southern and Northern Europe, the French and British Enlightenment, nineteenth century Scotland, and Impressionism. The exhibition has been carefully designed and installed to accentuate the grandeur of the paintings and foster an intimate experience with each of the artworks.”

Text from the AGNSW

 

Thomas Gainsborough (England, 1727-88) 'John Campbell, 4th Duke of Argyll' 1767

Thomas Gainsborough (England, 1727-88) 'John Campbell, 4th Duke of Argyll' 1767

 

Thomas Gainsborough (England, 1727-88)
John Campbell, 4th Duke of Argyll (installation views)
1767
Oil on canvas
235 x 154.3cm
Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburg
Purchased 1953
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photos: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

The Scottish Duke of Argyll, Chief of Clan Campbell, whose hereditary seat is Inverary Castle, commissioned Thomas Gainsborough, one of the most celebrated English portraitists of the 18th century, to paint his likeness. The artist’s talents were sought by the wealthy elite both in London and in the fashionable resort town of Bath, where he established a studio in 1759. Gainsborough applied dense and feathery brushwork to convey Argyll’s ducal robes, his collar of the Order of  Thistle, and the baton of his hereditary office of Master of the King’s Household.

 

Thomas Gainsborough (England, 1727-88) 'John Campbell, 4th Duke of Argyll' (detail) 1767

 

Thomas Gainsborough (England, 1727-88)
John Campbell, 4th Duke of Argyll (installation detail)
1767
Oil on canvas
235 x 154.3cm
Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburg
Purchased 1953
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Francesco Guardi (Italy, 1712-93) 'The Piazza San Marco, Venice' c. 1770-75

Francesco Guardi (Italy, 1712-93) 'The Piazza San Marco, Venice' c. 1770-75

 

Francesco Guardi (Italy, 1712-93)
The Piazza San Marco, Venice (installation views)
c. 1770-75
Oil on canvas
55.2 x 85.4cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the Scottish National Gallery, 1978
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photos: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Like his fellow painter Canaletto, Guardi capitalised on the market of tourists eager for topographical views – vedute – of the spectacular urban spaces of Venice. This composition features the Piazza San Marco, which Napoleon would later call ‘the most splendid drawing room in Europe’. On either side, the receding arcades of official buildings, the Procurator Vecchio and Procurator Nuove, lead the eye towards the Basilica of San Marco, its mosaics shimmering in the sunlight. Behind the bellower is a glimpse of the Doge’s Palace. The scene is enlivened by traders, uniformed government officials, and fashionably dressed tourists – all portrayed through only a few deft strokes of the brush.

 

Jean-Antoine Watteau (France, 1684-1721) 'Fêtes vénitiennes (Venetian pleasures)' 1718-19

Jean-Antoine Watteau (France, 1684-1721) 'Fêtes vénitiennes (Venetian pleasures)' 1718-19

 

Jean-Antoine Watteau (France, 1684-1721)
Fêtes vénitiennes (Venetian pleasures) (installation views)
1718-19
Oil on canvas
55.9 x 45.7cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh. Bequest of Lady Murray of Henderland, 1861
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photos: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Jean-Antoine Watteau (France, 1684-1721) 'Fêtes vénitiennes (Venetian pleasures)' (detail) 1718-19

 

Jean-Antoine Watteau (France, 1684-1721)
Fêtes vénitiennes (Venetian pleasures) (installation detail)
1718-19
Oil on canvas
55.9 x 45.7cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh. Bequest of Lady Murray of Henderland, 1861
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

At the beginning of the 18th century, Watteau pioneered the fêtes gallant, a type of painting depicting a group of men and women enjoying flirtatious love, music and conversation, generally in a park or a garden setting. His paintings inspired a generation of artists who sought to capture the light-hearted elegance of the period. This painting is one of his few compositions that portray real people: the figure on the left can be identified as Watteau’s friend and fellow artist Nichola Vleugxhels, and the lovelorn bagpipe player on the right is considered a self-portrait of Watteau himself.

 

François Boucher (France, 1703–70) Pastoral scene: l’offrande à la villageoise 1761 Pastoral scene: la jardinière endormie 1762 Pastoral scene: l’aimable pastorale 1762

François Boucher (France, 1703–70) Pastoral scene: l’offrande à la villageoise 1761 Pastoral scene: la jardinière endormie 1762 Pastoral scene: l’aimable pastorale 1762

 

François Boucher (France, 1703-70)
The pleasing pastoral: l’aimable pastorale
1762
Oil on canvas
231.5 x 91cm

The offering of the village girl: l’offrande à la villageoise

1761
Oil on canvas
229 x 89cm

The sleeping gardener: la jardinière endormie
Oil on canvas
232 x 91cm
1762

Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased by private treaty from the estate of HMV Showering, 1986
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photos: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Boucher, considered the pre-eminent painter of the French rococo, effectively invented this genre of elegiac, erotic pastoral which found a parallel in the pantomimes devised by his friend Charles-Simon Favart. In these three pastoral scenes set in a luxuriant and entirely unthreatening nature, shepherds engage in a perpetual drama of frustrated courtship, reflecting the polished etiquette and suppressed passions of aristocratic society in pre-revolutionary France.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with at left, John Constable’s The Vale of Dedham (c. 1827-28) and at right, Thomas Gainsborough’s River landscape with a view of a distant village (c. 1748-50)
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

John Constable (England, 1776-1837) 'The Vale of Dedham' c. 1827-28

 

John Constable (England, 1776-1837)
The Vale of Dedham (installation view)
c. 1827-28
Oil on canvas
145 x 122cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased with funds from the Cowan Smith Bequest and with the aid of the Art Fund, 1944
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Constable was born in Suffolk, and he dedicated most of his career to painting the surrounding English countryside with a marked romantic idealism. He was influenced by the grand tradition of European landscape painting, which he learned from artists and dealers he met in London early in his career. This composition, for instance, is indebted broadly to that of Claude Lorrain’s work Hagar and the angel 1646 (National Gallery, London). Constable referred to his own mature masterpiece in al better of June 1828: ‘I have painted a large upright landscape, perhaps my best.’

 

John Constable (England, 1776-1837) 'The Vale of Dedham' (details) c. 1827-28

John Constable (England, 1776-1837) 'The Vale of Dedham' (details) c. 1827-28

 

John Constable (England, 1776-1837)
The Vale of Dedham (installation details)
c. 1827-28
Oil on canvas
145 x 122cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased with funds from the Cowan Smith Bequest and with the aid of the Art Fund, 1944
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photos: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Thomas Gainsborough (England, 1727-88) 'River landscape with a view of a distant village' c. 1748-50

 

Thomas Gainsborough (England, 1727-88)
River landscape with a view of a distant village (installation view)
c. 1748-50
Oil on canvas
76 x 151cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh. Purchased 1953
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Thomas Gainsborough (England, 1727-88) 'River landscape with a view of a distant village' (detail) c. 1748-50

Thomas Gainsborough (England, 1727-88) 'River landscape with a view of a distant village' (detail) c. 1748-50

Thomas Gainsborough (England, 1727-88) 'River landscape with a view of a distant village' (detail) c. 1748-50

 

Thomas Gainsborough (England, 1727-88)
River landscape with a view of a distant village (installation details)
c. 1748-50
Oil on canvas
76 x 151cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh. Purchased 1953
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photos: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Although best known for his portraits, Gainsborough consistently painted landscape throughout his long career. Rich in detail and carefully composed, this painting reveals his firsthand knowledge of 17th-century Dutch landscapes. During the 1740s, collectors in London admired and sought out works by such artists of Holland’s Golden Age as Meindert Hobbema and Jacob van Ruisdael. The especially horizontal format of this work suggests that it may have been part of a decorative cycle for a domestic interior, perhaps hanging above a fireplace.

 

Camille Corot (France, 1796-1875) 'Ville-d'Avray: entrance to the wood' c. 1825, with later retouching

Camille Corot (France, 1796-1875) 'Ville-d'Avray: entrance to the wood' c. 1825, with later retouching

 

Camille Corot (France, 1796-1875)
Ville-d’Avray: entrance to the wood (installation views)
c. 1825, with later retouching
Oil on canvas
46 x 35cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased with the aid of AE Anderson in memory of his brother Frank, 1927
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photos: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Camille Corot (France, 1796-1875) 'Ville-d'Avray: entrance to the wood' (detail) c. 1825, with later retouching

 

Camille Corot (France, 1796-1875)
Ville-d’Avray: entrance to the wood (installation detail)
c. 1825, with later retouching
Oil on canvas
46 x 35cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased with the aid of AE Anderson in memory of his brother Frank, 1927
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Corot, whose career spanned more than 50 years, emerged from the classicism of the 1820s to found the ‘school of nature’ that would find its culmination after his death in the art of the impressionists. This bucolic early work was painted at Ville-d’Avray, a small town west of Paris, where Corot’s parents owned a modest country house with grounds. The painting was retouched around 1850, at least in part by Corot’s friend and fellow artist Narcisse Virgile Diaz de la Peña, who added the red cap of the seated woman as a bold implement to the otherwise cool palette.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with at centre, Sir Henry Raeburn’s Colonel Alastair Ranaldson Macdonell, 15th Chief of Glengarry c. 1812
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with at left, Sir Henry Raeburn’s Colonel Alastair Ranaldson Macdonell, 15th Chief of Glengarry (c. 1812) and at centre, William Dyce’s Francesca da Rimini (1837)
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with at centre, Sir Henry Raeburn’s Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster, 1st Baronet (mid to late 1790s)
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with at left, William Dyce’s Francesca da Rimini (1837) and at right, Sir Edwin Landseer’s Rent-day in the wilderness (1868)
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Sir Edwin Landseer (England, 1802-73) 'Rent-day in the wilderness' 1868

 

Sir Edwin Landseer (England, 1802-73)
Rent-day in the wilderness (installation view)
1868
Oil on canvas
122 x 265cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Bequest of Sir Roderick Impey Murchison, 1871
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Sir Edwin Landseer (England, 1802-73) 'Rent-day in the wilderness' (detail) 1868

Sir Edwin Landseer (England, 1802-73) 'Rent-day in the wilderness' (detail) 1868

 

Sir Edwin Landseer (England, 1802-73)
Rent-day in the wilderness (installation details)
1868
Oil on canvas
122 x 265cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Bequest of Sir Roderick Impey Murchison, 1871
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Lands became famous for his paintings of the Scottish Highlands. This unusual history painting is based on the heroic exploits of Colonel Donald Murchison, as recounted in Robert Chamber’s Domestic annals of Scotland (1858-60). Murchison, a lawyer turned guerrilla fighter, supported the rebellion to reinstate the Stuart dynasty to the throne of Great Britain. he brazenly defied the government by collecting rents illegally from Scottish tenants to finance local armed resistance. In this painting – commissioned by Murchison’s great-grandson – Landseer conflates several distinct episodes, including the colonel’s daring and notorious ambush of government-appointed agents, escorted by British redcoats, in 1721.

 

Frederic Edwin Church (USA, 1826-1900) 'Niagara Falls, from the American side' 1867

 

Frederic Edwin Church (USA, 1826-1900)
Niagara Falls, from the American side (installation view)
1867
Oil on canvas
260 x 231cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Presented by John Stewart Kennedy, 1887
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with at left, Camille Pissarro’s The Marne at Chennevières (c. 1864-65) and at right, Claude Monet’s Poplars on the Epte (1891)
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with at left, Claude Monet’s Poplars on the Epte (1891) and at right, Paul Cézanne’s The big trees (c. 1904)
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Camille Pissarro (France, 1830-1903) 'The Marne at Chennevières' c. 1864-65

Camille Pissarro (France, 1830-1903) 'The Marne at Chennevières' c. 1864-65

 

Camille Pissarro (France, 1830-1903)
The Marne at Chennevières (installation views)
c. 1864-65
Oil on canvas
91.5 x 145.5cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased 1947
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photos: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Camille Pissarro (France, 1830-1903) 'The Marne at Chennevières' (detail) c. 1864-65

 

Camille Pissarro (France, 1830-1903)
The Marne at Chennevières (detail)
c. 1864-65
Oil on canvas
91.5 x 145.5cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased 1947
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland

 

 

Pisarro, the oldest and perhaps the most paternal of the impressionists, was the only artist to show at all eight of the group exhibitions. He painted this large riverscape early in his career, while renting a house at La Varenne-Saint-Hilaire, a village to the southeast of Paris, situated on the river Marne. The diagonal composition and the use of a palette knife to create this bucolic scene reflect the painter’s admiration for such diverse artists as Charles François Daubigny and Gustave Courbet.

 

Claude Monet (France, 1840-1926) 'Poplars on the Epte' 1891

 

Claude Monet (France, 1840-1926)
Poplars on the Epte (installation view)
1891
Oil on canvas
81.8 x 81.3cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased 1925
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

In the 1880s, Monet gradually developed a more schematic and decorative approach to landscape, which led to his ‘series’ paintings of the 1890s, beginning with the Haystacks in 1891 and culminating in his water lily paintings. This painting belongs to a series of twenty-three canvases that Monet, the founder of French impressionism and one of the most celebrated artists in Western art history, completed in the late spring and autumn of 1891.

For the series, Monet painted poplar trees on the river Epte, close to where it joins the river Seine, just more than a mile from his home at Giverny. The clear blue sky and sunlit clouds express a fresh atmosphere. Monet painted the scene on the river from his boat, which served as a floating studio. This explains the low vantage point, with the trees towering above, the river bank at eye level, and the vast expanse of water dominating the lower half of the painting. Unlike most of the series paintings which are vertical, the Edinburgh picture’s format is square, emphasising the gentle curve of the bank and the verticality of the slender trees trunks and their reflection in the water.

Monet had already started to create these works when municipal authorities decided to cut down the trees for lumber and sell them at auction. In order to preserve his motifs, Monet partnered with a timber merchant, and successfully saved the poplars, allowing him to complete his series for exhibition in 1892. The painting was the first impressionist picture to enter the National Galleries of Scotland’s collection. It was sold to the Gallery in 1924 by the important Scottish art dealer Alex Reid, who was responsible for introducing impressionism to many British collectors. Degas’ Portrait of Diego Martelli 1879 also passed through his hands (see below).

 

Claude Monet (France, 1840-1926) 'Poplars on the Epte' (detail) 1891

Claude Monet (France, 1840-1926) 'Poplars on the Epte' (detail) 1891

 

Claude Monet (France, 1840-1926)
Poplars on the Epte (installation details)
1891
Oil on canvas
81.8 x 81.3cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased 1925
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photos: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Edgar Degas (France, 1834-1917) 'Diego Martelli' 1879

 

Edgar Degas (France, 1834-1917) 'Diego Martelli' 1879

 

Edgar Degas (France, 1834-1917)
Diego Martelli (installation views)
1879
Oil on canvas
110.4 x 99.8cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased 1932
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photos: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

This portrait of the Florentine art critic Diego Martelli, a close friend of Degas and an important champion of impressionism, was painted in Martelli’s Paris apartment. The high viewpoint flattens the composition, throwing the sitter’s legs into sharp perspective. The work’s asymmetry and the cropping of such elements as the discarded slippers reflect Degas’s interest in Japanese prints. The curved picture behind the sofa is a map of Paris: the river Seine is visible, running through coloured segments denoting the city’s new souther neighbourhoods.

 

Paul Cézanne (France, 1839-1906) 'The big trees' c. 1904

 

Paul Cézanne (France, 1839-1906)
The big trees (installation view)
c. 1904
Oil on canvas
81 x 65cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Presented by Mrs Anne F Kessler, 1958; received after her death, 1983
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

This painting dates from the last years of Cézanne’s career. It is one of a series of works executed in the forest around the Bibémus quarry and the Château Noir, areas in which he often painted in his native Aix-en-Provence. The twisting limbs of the tree at left and the dramatic diagonal of the tree at right inject a sense of dynamism into the composition. Cézanne often left his pertaining in seemingly unfinished states, with areas of the primed white canvas showing through; here, they function not only as markers of the painter’s practice but also as patches of reflected sunlight.

 

Paul Cézanne (France, 1839-1906) 'The big trees' (detail) c. 1904

Paul Cézanne (France, 1839-1906) 'The big trees' (detail) c. 1904

 

Paul Cézanne (France, 1839-1906)
The big trees (installation details)
c. 1904
Oil on canvas
81 x 65cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Presented by Mrs Anne F Kessler, 1958; received after her death, 1983
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photos: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with at left Paul Gauguin’s Three Tahitians (1899) and at right, Georges Seurat’s La luzerne, Saint-Denis (1884-85)
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Paul Gauguin (France, 1848-1903) 'Three Tahitians' 1899

Paul Gauguin (France, 1848-1903) 'Three Tahitians' 1899

 

Paul Gauguin (France, 1848-1903)
Three Tahitians (installation views)
1899
Oil on canvas
73 x 94cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Presented by Sir Alexander Maitland in memory of his wife Rosalind, 1960
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photos: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Three Tahitians epitomises the decorative intensity of Gauguin’s late Polynesian works. Painted in the artist’s final years, during his second period in Tahiti, the work is said to depict a silent conversation in which the man appears to be undecided about the choice offered by the two attractive women – the choice between sensuality and piety. Although ambiguous, it has been suggested these two women are respectively symbolic of vice and virtue.

The bare-chested woman, holding a small posy of flowers and wearing a wedding ring, would seem to represent goodness, her gaze directed to the man. While the woman who turns to face the viewer, her sensuous lips in an enigmatic smile, and holds a mango, may be a reference to the biblical figure Eve who tempted Adam with an apple. These two women recur in several other compositions by Gauguin around this time. In the 1880s, the French post-impressionist fled urban civilisation in search of a tropical Garden of Eden, in which he felt his art could flourish. His final two years of life were spent on the remote island of Hivaoa in the tiny village of Atuona.

 

 

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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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