Walter Richard Sickert

"The fact that a painter sees in any scene the elements of a pictorial beauty is the obvious and sufficient explanation of his motive for painting."

- Sickert

A painter and engraver, Sickert was one of the most skilled British artists of his generation. He was also an author and a prolific art critic, and left a copious collection of essays and correspondence, published posthumously in 1947 under the title A Free House. His style was influenced in part by Whistler, who painted directly from nature in a limited palette of sombre colours. After he became acquainted with Degas, he learned to work in the studio from sketches he had made from life, and later worked from photographs. Like his father, who was an illustrator of popular magazines, he was intermittently a printmaker.

Born of a Danish father and an Anglo-Irish mother, Sickert grew up in a cosmopolitan milieu, hence his ease in expressing himself in French and German; half of his writings were originally in French. In 1881, he apprenticed in the studio of James McNeill Whistler (1843-1903), an American artist living and working in London. When Whistler sent him on an errand to Paris, he met Edgar Degas (1834-1917). Under Degas's influence, he became interested in music hall and theatre scenes, subjects considered vulgar by his contemporaries in London. The painting Gallery of the Old Bedford (1890), a view of a theatre balcony from below, confirms his interest in Degas's approach to composition. Starting in 1885, Sickert made frequent stays in Dieppe, Venice and London-Dieppe was the source of the paintings Café des Tribunaux, Dieppe (1890) and Rue Notre-Dame, Dieppe (1890)-and began painting figurative scenes and portraits. After his return to London, he remained a link to the French avant-garde, and his studio became a meeting-place for the artistic elite. During that period, he produced two crucial series in his oeuvre of ambiguous, dramatic subjects. These late works show a change in technique that would prove to be his definitive manner of painting. As his career continued, he divided his time between teaching and printmaking, and eventually began using photography in executing his portraits of theatre people and personalities.

Sickert © Hulton-Deutsch, Collection/CORBIS/MAGMA