Your paintings Uncovering the nation's art collection In association with The Public Catalogue Foundation

Archives for October 2012

Artist in Focus: Walter Sickert

Wendy Baron | 10:30 UK time, Thursday, 25 October 2012

Walter Richard Sickert (1860–1942), was the most prodigiously creative and influential British artist of the early twentieth century. Thanks to ‘Your Paintings,’ a click of a mouse finds all publicly-owned Sickert paintings in the UK; we can also wander down the byways to explore the artists to whom he was related through birth or marriage.

Hay Stooks in a Meadow (Johann Jürgen Sickert, Collection: Portsmouth Museums and Records Service)

Sickert’s paternal grandfather, his father and one of his younger brothers were all professional artists. His grandfather, the Danish easel painter Johann Jürgen Sickert (1803–1864), was employed at the court of King Christian VIII of Denmark. His father, the painter and illustrator Oswald Adalbert Sickert (1828–1885), was born in Altona but later moved to settle with his family in England.

Lincoln Cathedral (Bernhard Sickert, Collection: Victoria Art Gallery)

Bernhard Sickert (1863–1932) was, with Walter, one of the group of 10 who exhibited together as ‘London Impressionists’ at the Goupil Gallery in 1889. In later years pastel rather than oil became his preferred medium. However, besides the six in Islington, the PCF team have found three oil paintings in public collections (in Bath, Sheffield and Portsmouth). Information about Bernhard’s life is sparse, but the paintings, all landscapes, recorded on the database prove he worked in France, in Amsterdam and in Lincoln.

The first of Walter Sickert’s wives was a writer; the second a talented embroideress; the third was the painter Thérèse Lessore (1884–1945), who herself came from a family of European artists. There are, to date, 53 paintings by Lessore from over 30 public collections included in the PCF database. Only a few were painted before 1926, when Lessore and Sickert married. From then onwards the subjects on their doorstep in London, Thanet and Bath, were the same; they enjoyed a shared interest in the stage, whether music hall, circus or classical theatre; they worked from the same photographs. With so much in common, their paintings are strikingly similar.

Scenes from 'The Duchess of Malfi', Performed at the Haymarket Theatre (Therese Lessore, Collection: Islington Local History Centre and Museum)

During the last 10 years of his life, Sickert supervised a studio not much different from that of the Old Masters – or of Damien Hirst for that matter. Working under Sickert’s direction Lessore, together with other friends and disciples, often executed pictures signed by Sickert. There are two theatrical scenes, one by Lessore in Islington and one ostensibly by Sickert now in the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University. Each reflects the same scene on stage, but the Lessore is identified as a scene from ‘The Duchess of Malfi’ performed at the Haymarket Theatre in 1945, the Sickert as a scene from ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, at the New Theatre in 1937. Peggy Ashcroft Peggy Ashcroft was not only in the cast of the New Theatre production: she was a friend of Sickert and the first owner of the painting. In 1981, when the painting was included in the ‘Late Sickert’ exhibition at the Hayward gallery, she declared that Lessore, not Sickert, painted it. It is indeed entirely possible that Lessore painted two, virtually identical versions; or that Ashcroft confused the Lessore now in Islington with the Sickert now at Harvard. The one certain fact is that the Lessore on the PCF database must now be retitled ‘The Taming of the Shrew’.

In short, the images collected and collated by the PCF afford scholars and amateurs endless entertainment and information.

You can read the full feature on the PCF's website.

Dr Wendy Baron is the author of 'Sickert: Paintings and Drawings.'

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