Oil on canvas: 24(h) x 12(w) in /
61(h) x 30.5(w) cm
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WALTER RICHARD SICKERT
Munich 1860 – 1942 Bathampton, Somerset
Oil on canvas: 24 x 12 in / 61 x 30.5 cm
Frame size: 31 × 19 in / 78.7 × 48.3 cm
In its original gilded and painted frame
Painted in 1907
Redfern Gallery, London
Mr Samuel Carr, acquired from the above, December 1940, then by descent
London, Redfern Gallery, Richard Sickert, February–March 1940, no.15
London, Fine Art Society, Camden Town Recalled, October–November 1976, no.133; this exhibition travelled to Sheffield, Graves Art Gallery, November–December 1976
Lillian Browse, Sickert, London, 1943, p.50
Wendy Baron, Sickert, Phaidon, London, 1973, p.347, no.263.3, as The Frame-Maker’s Daughter
Wendy Baron, Camden Town Recalled, exhibition catalogue, Fine Art Society, London, 1976, p.47, no.133
Wendy Baron, Sickert Paintings and Drawings, Yale University Press, London and New Haven, 2006, p.362, no.339, illus.
When in May 1907 Sickert rented the first floor rooms above his lodgings at 6 Morning Crescent, Camden Town as a studio, he introduced one of the most creative periods of his life. He was so absorbed by the ‘dozen or so interiors’ which he called ‘a set of Studies of illumination’ that he stayed on in London until late August, instead of leaving as usual in July for his annual summer visit to Dieppe. The interiors were ‘A little Jewish girl of 13 or so with red hair & a nude alternate days’. The little Jewish girl is identified in the archives of Thomas Agnew as Miss Siderman who died, aged 70, in 1963. The daughter of a grocer (possibly Sickert’s grocer), she married Harry Goodman in August 1915. She was the model for five oil paintings, all but the present work in public art galleries (Tate, London; Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; City Museum and Art Gallery, Plymouth; and Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane). Among the many related drawings, one (British Council Collection) is inscribed ‘le petit Jesus’, Sickert’s acknowledgment of the gently semitic features and wavy hair of his young model.
The present three-quarter length portrait is one of the most beautiful and sensitive of Sickert’s career as a figure painter. It flickers with an opulent impasto; the surface is a mosaic of touches of paint in rich, lively and varied colours; the tonality is – for Sickert – relatively light. Whereas two of the ‘Little Rachel’ paintings (Tate and Fitzwilliam) place Rachel in front of the window through which the light filters obliquely so that she is seen contre-jour, in the present painting there is no setting to speak of and the source of light is outside the picture. It bathes her figure to highlight the folds of her pin-tucked white blouse, to capture the graceful outline of her features, to catch the vivid rusty red of her hair. The contrast between the ‘Little Rachel’
series and the nudes Sickert painted on alternate days must have been exhilarating. The preoccupation with contre-jour light effects on the figure is the same, the Mornington Crescent setting is the same, but in all but two of the paintings of the nude, the mood is totally different. The nudes stare brazenly out of the picture; Rachel never looks directly at the artist or the spectator. Sickert portrays her as solemn, demure and withdrawn into her own world, a lovely and innocent vehicle for painting.
Dr Wendy Baron
Fig. 1 Walter Sickert, Girl at a Fig. 2 Walter Sickert, Study for Rachel, 1907.
Window, Little Rachel, 1907. Tate, British Council Collection.
In 1905 Sickert took rooms in Mornington Crescent, Camden Town, and this is the setting for ‘Little Rachel’, one of six paintings in 1907 of Rachel Seiderman, a grocer’s daughter, whom he
described as ‘a little Jewish girl of thirteen or so with red hair’. In this appealing portrait, her loose red curls fall over her shoulders; in a couple of years’ time her hair might be ‘put up’, arranged in adult style, a rite of passage signifying a move from childhood to the status of young woman. The three-quarter length of this painting allows us to see the girl’s clothing in some detail, a high-necked white blouse and dark skirt, a combination which had first appeared in the 1880s, and which became widely popular. In the blouse worn by middle/upper class women, the
front was often elaborately frilled and draped, decorated with lace, and often with stiff boning beneath, but Rachel’s lightly starched blouse has a simple pleated front which falls slightly over the waist, and can be seen in fig. 3, a drawing for the portrait. It’s visible, too, in Girl at a Window, Little Rachel (Tate) (fig. 1), which also shows how fine the cotton is as the light shows through the sleeve, which ends just below the elbow, a more practical style than wrist-length for a working class girl or woman. The blue of her blouse is more than just a notion of the artist;
a blue dye (Reckitt’s Blue Bags was the most famous product) was added to the final rinse of the blouse (or to the starch) to enhance the whiteness. The blouse is tucked into a hard-wearing navy blue serge skirt and kept in place by a belt. A similar navy skirt, slightly flared, can be seen in Sickert’s painting Off to the Pub (The Weekend), 1912 (Leeds Art Gallery), also worn with a white blouse. This was the default clothing of working women in late Victorian and Edwardian England, but it was also sometimes worn (usually with higher-quality fabrics) by professional women and art students.
Fig. 3 Walter Sickert, Little Rachel,
1907. Private collection.
WALTER RICHARD SICKERT
Munich 1860 – 1942 Bathampton, Somerset
Walter Richard Sickert was born in Munich on 31st May 1860, into a Danish-German family. His father Oswald Adalbert Sickert was also an artist. In 1868 his family moved to London and after attending a school in Reading, he studied at University College School, Bayswater Collegiate School and Kings College School. Sickert first worked unsuccessfully as an actor before studying under Alphonse Legros at the Slade School of Fine Art. He was James McNeill Whistler’s (1834-1903) assistant for a while, painting with him in Cornwall in 1884. He also worked with Edgar Degas (1834-1917) in Paris. In 1885 he married Ellen Melicent Ashburner Cobden. Ellen officially divorced him in 1899. In 1911 he married his art student Christine Drummond Angus. She died in 1920.
Although Sickert divided much of his time between visits to Dieppe and Venice, he returned to London in 1905 where he continued to produce sketches of music halls and their audiences. Sickert spearheaded the renting of a studio which became a meeting place for artists, who if they contributed to the rent, called themselves the ‘Fitzroy Street Group’. Some of these artists, including Spencer Gore, Harold Gilman, Robert Bevan and Charles Ginner, formed a short-lived, elected, exhibition society called the ‘Camden Town Group’.
From 1919-22 Sickert lived in Dieppe. He returned to Islington, and then took a house in Margate where he married his third wife, the painter Therese Lessore in 1926. In 1938 he moved to Bathhampton where he died on 23rd January 1942, one of the most influential and avant-garde British artists of the twentieth century.