Walter Sickert
Biography of British Impressionist Painter: Camden Town Group.

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Mornington Crescent (1908)
Private Collection.
By Walter Sickert, one of the
Best English Painters.

Paintings by Walter Sickert
are also widely available online
in the form of poster art.

For a list of Impressionists, see:
Impressionist Painters.
For Post-Impressionists, see:
Post-Impressionist Painters.

Walter Sickert (1860-1942)

The most important exponent of Impressionism in Britain (in effect a form of Post-Impressionism) Walter Richard Sickert was the leading member of the famous Camden Town Group. He was not an Impressionist in the traditional manner, preferring to work from the bottom of the tone scale, creating gleaming light from sombre colours. Towards the end of his life, his palette brightened considerably when he painted townscapes in Bath and Brighton. Sickert was profoundly influenced by Whistler (1834–1903) whose assistant he was for a period, and the great Edgar Degas (1834-1917), with whom he studied in Paris. Female nudes were a standard subject for painters for generations, but Whistler presented his nudes in intriguing, naturalistic settings. As a result, many of Sickert's nudes are presented in cropped format, at odd angles, seen through doorways. His artistic career spanned nearly 60 years, and his output was vast. He was also one of the few modern painters to make real use of studio assistants, in the manner of the Old Masters. His interest, later in life, of painting direct from magazine photos - a habit he picked up from Degas - may have influenced later developments in 20th century Photorealism art. His favourite subjects were figurative compositions and urban scenes, including mundane domestic interiors. He also painted outstanding portraits. His best known paintings include: What Shall we do for the Rent? (Yale Centre for British Art, New Haven) and Ennui (1914, Tate, London).

For an idea of the pigments
used by Walter Sickert, see:
Colour Palette Nineteenth Century.

For top creative practitioners, see:
Best Artists of All Time.
For the greatest portraitists
see: Best Portrait Artists.
For the greatest genre-painting, see:
Best Genre Painters.

For a discussion of the main
aesthetic issues concerning
the creative visual arts, see:
Art Definition, Meaning

For a list of painters like
Walter Sickert, see:
Modern Artists

For a list of the best examples of
Fine Art Painting, by the
world's top artists, see below:
Greatest Modern Paintings
Oils, watercolours, acrylics,
from 1850-present.
Oil Painting
History, styles and development.

Artistic Training

Sickert was born in Munich in 1860. The family moved to London in 1868 and took British nationality. Sickert's father was an artist, and his grandparents had also been involved in the arts. At first he tried to make a career in acting, before studying fine art at the Slade School in London. He also became an assistant to Whistler, who was based in London at this time. Whistler had already produced his famous Artist's Mother (1871, Musee d'Orsay, Paris) and many of his nocturnes paintings, and was now working on nude drawings, sketched from obtuse angles, with part of the figure cut off (e.g. Nude Model Reclining, 1900, Tate, London). These drawings influenced the young Sickert, not only in his choice of subject matter, but also style. (Please see also: Characteristics of Impressionist Painting 1870-1910.)


After this, Sickert spent a period of time in Paris, working with Edgar Degas. Following the great Frenchman's advice, he worked in the studio, relying on memory and sketches in order to escape 'the tyranny of nature'. Some of Sickert's earliest paintings are of London music halls - see: Gatti's Hungerford Palace of Varieties (1887-8, NSW Art Gallery); and The Old Bedford (1897, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool) - where the spatial relationship between the audience, stage, orchestra and performers is confused and ambiguous. Like Degas, who painted ballet dancers on stage, Sickert was emphasising the need for 'art for arts sake', connecting the artificiality of theatrical performances to life and art.

French Influence

Between 1900 and 1909 Sickert exhibited his paintings in at least 15 shows in Paris, gaining a reputation as a modernist artist in a field dominated by French painters. He shared the same art dealer as Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) and Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940), at the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery. All 3 artists show a common theme, their nude figures painted from awkward, strange angles. The art critic Paul Jamot wrote in 1905 that "Sickert is wavering between Bonnard and Whistler". Their interest, in the fragmented female body was a reoccurring theme and was related to their interest in classical sculpture, where figures are frequently incomplete. Sickert moved away from pictures of popular music halls, and focused more on painting nudes, dark scenes, set in bedrooms with cheap iron bedsteads, washstands and mirrors. An example, is Woman Washing her Hair (1906, Estate of Walter R Sickert). The figure is cut abruptly off at the head, framed by the doorway. In 2006 the Tate London held an exhibition entitled Sickert and the Paris Art World: The 1900s. It placed works by Sickert, Vuillard and Bonnard, alongside studies by Whistler, Degas and Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) - all of which display a common interest in intimate interiors, and figures composed at strange angles: see for instance, Whistler's A Draped Model Reclining (c.1900, Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, University of Glasgow) and Degas' pastel and gouache Bed-Time (c.1880-5, Tate). See also: Best Impressionist Paintings.

Canaletto Of Dieppe

While in France, Sickert had spent most of his time living in Dieppe, where he became an obsessive painter of the town's medieval church of St Jacques: indeed, he was known as the 'Canaletto of Dieppe' - see for instance, St Jacque's Facade (1899-1900) Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester. Perhaps if he had stayed in France, he might have built a bigger reputation and be better known today.

Return to London & Camden Town Group

Instead, in 1905 Sickert returned to London. Here, however he did stand out for his intimate knowledge of French art and artists. Younger artists were attracted to him, gathering in his studio in Camden Town. The two other main proponents of the Camden Town Group were Harold Gilman (1876-1919), also a founder of the Fitzroy Street Group in 1907 and Spencer Frederick Gore (1878-1914). Other members included Lucien Pissarro (1863-1944, son of Impressionist Camille Pissarro), Vorticist painter Percy Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957), Henry Lamb (1883-1960), Charles Ginner (1878-1952), J.B. Manson (1879-1945), Robert Bevan (1865-1925) and Augustus John (1878-1961). The group had been meeting since 1905 but was only formally established in 1911.

Sickert was the groups' main theorist and acted as the principal mentor. Influenced by the works of Van Gogh (1853-90), Paul Gaugin (1848-1903) and others, the group was largely responsible for introducing Post-Impressionism into England. They also organised exhibitions of Post-Impressionist and Cubist paintings. In 2008 the Tate Britain held a large retrospective of the groups' works. Sickert's paintings tend to be Impressionist in technique but realistic, sometimes seedy in emphasis. This can be seen in his series of provocative "Camden Town Paintings" (1908), which were displayed together for the first time in 2008 at the Courtauld Gallery, London. One of the most memorable is What Shall We Do For The Rent? The title is ambiguous, as a man sits next on the bed, while a naked woman lies facing the wall. Her pose is rigid, is she dead? At the time, the newspapers were abound with news of the unsolved Camden town murder of a prostitute, which no doubt was Sickert's intentional subject matter in this painting. In fact, the morbidity of his paintings led to sensationalist remarks at the time that Sickert may even have been Jack the Ripper. In 1914 he painted Boredom (Ennui) his masterpiece of genre-painting. In it, a man and woman face in opposite directions, staring into space. Their marriage is suffocating with boredom, and the artist's works provides neither narrative certainty nor moral guidance.

Last Years

Sickert was President of the London Group and of the Royal Society of British Artists. He was elected an Associate of the London Royal Academy in 1924 and a full Academician 10 years later. His most memorable works came from his Camden Town period, even though his later paintings, including his townscapes of Bath and Brighton, were lighter in palette. In the 1930s he executed works based on photographs, squared up enlargements, where the pencil grids were left still visible. These last works may have influenced photorealists such as Chuck Close (b.1940) and Gerhard Richter (b.1932). He was also an outstanding portraitist. Two of his best examples of portrait art are Portrait of George Moore (1891, Tate) and Portrait of Victor Lecour (1924, City Art Gallery, Manchester). See also: British Painting: Contemporary.

As well as being a prolific painter, Sickert was actively involved in printmaking. He was also an enthusiastic teacher, opening (and closing) seven private art schools as well as teaching part time at Westminster School of Art (1908-12 and 1915-18).

Sickert died in 1942, during the Second World War, at the age of 82.

Famous Paintings

Works by the British Impressionist Walter Sickert can be seen in many of the best art museums in Britain and around the world. Here is a brief selection.

- La Plage (1885) Manchester City Art Gallery.
- The Laundry Shop (1885) Leeds City Art Gallery.
- Gatti's Hungerford Palace of Varieties (1887-8) Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney.
- Little Dot Hetherington at the Bedford Music Hall (1889) Private Collection.
- Portrait of George Moore (1891) Tate Gallery, London.
- Portrait of Aubrey Beardsley (1894) Tate Gallery, London.
- The Old Bedford (1897) Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.
- St Jacque's Facade (1899-1900) Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester.
- La Hollandaise (1906) Tate, London.
- Woman Washing her Hair (1906) Estate of Walter R Sickert.
- Mornington Crescent Nude (1908) Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide.
- Mornington Cresent (1908) Private Collection, UK.
- What Shall we do for the Rent? (1908) Yale Centre for British Art, NH.
- The Juvenile Lead (1907) Southampton Art Gallery.
- Boredom (Ennui) (1914) Tate, London.
- Portrait of Victor Lecour (1922-4) City Art Gallery, Manchester.
- Portrait of Edward VIII (1936) Beaverbrook Art Gallery, New Brunswick.

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