Walter Richard Sickert

Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942) was one of England's greatest impressionist painters. His cityscapes and music hall scenes were frequently based, compositionally, on Degas's paintings.

Walter Sickert was born in Munich to a Danish father, Oswald Sickert, a painter and journalistic draftsman, and an English mother. Oswald emigrated with his family to England in 1868 to keep his sons from being conscripted into the German army. In 1875 Walter enrolled at King's College in London. In 1881 he entered the Slade School in London, but he soon left to help James McNeill Whistler print his etchings. In 1883 Sickert, by then Whistler's apprentice, took a painting by Whistler to Paris, where he met Edgar Degas, whose devoted follower he became from then on. Sickert had come to feel that Whistler painted with too much surface facility.

In 1885 Sickert and his wife honeymooned in Dieppe. His scenes of Dieppe date from 1885, but especially after 1899 street scenes of Dieppe were a recurring subject. Sickert, especially from about 1895, was a prolific writer, and he also taught extensively. He visited Venice in 1895, in the winter of 1900/1901, and in 1903-1904, when he did views of St. Mark's Square. From 1900 to 1905 he lived mainly in France.

The years 1907-1914 were Sickert's Camden Town period, in which he showed forlorn people in dreary rooms with cheap Victorian furniture. In these works he used a thick and broken impasto, as in Girl Reading (1907) and Ennui (1913). In 1911 he founded an association of painters called the Camden Town group, most of whose members did not share his impressionistic leanings. From 1919 to 1922 Sickert lived in Dieppe and then settled permanently in London. He died in Bath.

Outside of Sickert and Sir William Orpen, England did not produce any first-rate painters who followed the lead of the French impressionists. Sickert, though often influenced by Degas not only in the choice of subject matter but also in the methods of cutting figures and in the choice of unusual viewpoints, nonetheless had his own flavor. In his many music hall scenes executed between 1887 and 1899, Sickert showed a greater interest in the audience than did Degas, and he had a preference for earthy, low-life, somewhat ribald types, such as the theatergoers in the Old Bedford, a Corner of the Gallery (ca. 1897). He was fascinated with the mundane, seamy side of English life, and he emphasized the dreary mood of his subject matter by low-keyed tones, in contrast to most of the work of the French impressionists.

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Further Reading on Walter Richard Sickert

The biographical study of Lillian Browse, Sickert (1960), shows Sickert as only peripherally dependent upon the French impressionists.

Additional Biography Sources

Emmons, Robert, The life and opinions of Walter Richard Sickert, London: Lund Humphries, 1992, 1941.

Sutton, Denys, Walter Sickert: a biography, London: Joseph, 1976.

Woolf, Virginia, Walter Sickert: a conversation, Norwood, Pa.: Norwood Editions, 1978.