Like his mentor James Whistler, Walter Sickert (1860–1942) had been born overseas. The son of a Danish-German artist who was living in Munich, Germany, the Sickert family migrated to London when Walter was eight. His first career choice was the stage, but he never managed to secure any parts substantial enough to earn himself a living. He started studying at the Slade School of Art in 1881, but quickly abandoned those studies to work as an assistant to Whistler in his London studio.
In 1883 he met Edgar Degas in Paris, and two years later he started to spend much of his time in Dieppe, where his mistress lived. His earliest paintings are said to have been small tonal studies painted alla prima similar to Whistler’s experimental landscapes of the time, but I’ve been unable to find any images of those.
Sickert’s landscapes such as Mont de Neuville, Dieppe – Blue Sky from 1887, are mostly small and sketchy, although like Whistler his earth colours were atypical of Impressionism. This is one of a pair which examines a favourite theme in Impressionism: the effects of different weather and lighting conditions on appearances.
The following year, Sickert joined the New English Art Club, which had been formed two years earlier by young artists who had studied in Paris, including John Singer Sargent, Philip Wilson Steer and George Clausen. That club became a crucible for British Impressionism.
Café des Tribunaux, Dieppe, which he painted during another of his visits in 1890, shows the warm light of sunset (or possibly sunrise), the time on the café’s clock being five to five. Judging by the number of people in the street, this is more likely to be a winter sunset.
From about 1895, Sickert started visiting Venice, where in 1896 he painted this view of St Mark’s, Venice (Pax Tibi Marce Evangelista Meus). Like Monet and Pissarro, this is one a series in different weather and lighting conditions. Of the series, this is the largest and most detailed view of the front of the basilica, with the lower facade in shadow and the domes and superstructure lit in the warm light of dusk.
The Latin in the painting’s title is the city’s motto Peace be unto you, Mark, my evangelist, which also refers to the saint to whom the basilica is dedicated, and Venice’s patron. This painting was shown at the New English Art Club in 1897, and remains one of the key works of early British Impressionism.
Two years later, Sickert was back on the north French coast, where he painted this rough oil sketch of Dieppe Train Station (1898).
In the same year and town, he painted this sketchy view of Dieppe, the Arcades and the Darse.
Fine sunny weather the following year heightened the chroma in his View of the Hôtel Royal, Dieppe Beach (c 1899).
This is another View of the Hotel Royal probably painted in the same year.
Some views that Sickert painted during his visits to Venice make interesting comparison with those of John Singer Sargent, who was painting the city mostly in watercolour at the time. Sickert’s Venice, la Salute, which he is thought to have completed in about 1901, still uses muted colours, and was clearly painted as an oil sketch. Like other Impressionists, he crops this unusually, showing only a portion of the famous domed church of Santa Maria della Salute. The artist also stressed how he had painted this in “full colour”.
As the new century progressed, Sickert’s style became even rougher, as in his well-known sketch of The Antique Shop from about 1906. This probably shows a shop not far from his studio, then in Camden Town, which became the centre of the new movement of the same name.
For some years, Sickert had also been painting sketchy images of rather lugubrious nude women; in September 1907, not far from his studio, a prostitute was brutally murdered by one of her clients when she was asleep. This immediately hit the headlines, dubbed the Camden Town Murder, and drew comparison with the serial killings of Jack the Ripper in Whitechapel during 1888, although in this case there was but a single victim. Sickert became obsessed with the events prior to the murder, and painted several different compositions with very narrow tonal ranges and little colour, under titles such as What Shall We Do for the Rent?
Sickert remained an occasional visitor to France, and in 1909 made this fine etching and aquatint of Dieppe, La Rue Notre Dame. In 1920, after the death of his second wife, he moved there for two years, then returned to London.
Late during the First World War, probably in 1917, he painted this view of Belvedere, Bath. During that war, as he was unable to visit Dieppe in the summer, he visited resorts in England instead. These included Brighton on the south coast, Chagford near Dartmoor in Devon, and Bath twice. This view looks down towards the Regency centre of Bath from Belvedere, taking in the fronts of shops which lined the street, and a horse and cart on the right.
Despite its appearance as an oil sketch which might have been completed in front of the motif, Sickert created this following a series of sketches and studies, including at least one compositional sketch in oils, and this final version was made in the studio he rented in the city during his visit. It was praised by the critics when exhibited.
Sickert painted this view of Maple Street, London between about 1915-23. It’s unclear whether this is a nocturne, or was seen under the dark grey sky of imminent rain. This street is in what’s known as Fitzrovia, not far to the west of the British Museum.
In 1926, Sickert is thought to have suffered a minor stroke. He later changed style completely, painting only from photos. He died in Bath during the Second World War, in 1942. Today his Impressionism seems to been largely forgotten, and he is mainly remembered for those Camden Town nudes, and the bizarre claim that he was Jack the Ripper.