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Walter Richard Sickert

Biography & Influences


Sickert's first love was for literature & he was devoted to the classics: Sir Walter Scott, Thomas Hardy, Flaubert, Balzac the French novelist & essayist/critic André Gide, the Italian dramatist Goldoni, Montaigne, Stendhal & the Published Journal of Delacroix {1823~24} & Proust. Knowing how waggish Sickert could be, it isn't surprising then that one of his favourite authors was the witty Latin epigrammatist M.V. Martial, {translated by Porter 1972}.

He started out in life as an actor & appeared in plays including Shakespeare's Henry V, where he succeeded in playing five parts. In 1881 he decided to give up acting, & take up painting professionally.

Sickert painted music-hall scenes for his subjects in & around the London area, Camden Town, West End & Hackney. He looked for life & movement in a painting; there is always something happening. He was very adamant about the model not posing , but painting the sitter in natural light & surroundings. Sickert had the ability to grasp the psychological human tensions & realities. Unusually he painted not only the performers on stage, he also conveyed the essence of enjoyment from the audience.

Like most artists, he observed people closely, obsessively, watching how they moved , their body language, the expressions, moods. He succeeds in conveying all these human emotions on canvas in such an expressive way, but also in an almost voyeuristic way. In 1909 he produced a series of paintings titled the 'Camden Town Murders' based on the Whitechapel murders of 1888, in which the prostitutes were all killed in horrifying circumstances. He had a morbid fascination with sexual violence & the crimes committed by Jack the Ripper. It has been suggested that Sickert was involved in the cover up protecting the Royal physician William Gull. I find this a very far-fetched theory as Gull was in his 70s at the time of the murders.

Sickert's paintings at the time were regarded as blatantly pornographic. I think the fact is that he recorded a variety of historical events, {we know that he copied from newspaper photographs}, so he was just recording the events of the day. Sickert is innocent {innocent?}; in the clear perhaps! I find it strange, if not hypocritical, that Sickert resigned from the Fitzroy Street Group in 1914 because he thought Epstein's work too pornographic.

He often used a camera to photograph himself & as a model to put himself into the painting.
Sickert liked to be associated with other painters, but after a while he was sure to find such emotional closeness irksome. His gregariousness was but a skin. Always beneath it was the cat that walked alone.

Groups & Influences

The painters Sickert most admired were Philip Wilson Steer, Charles Keene & Millet, & of course Thérèse Lessore whom he later married.

He taught & lectured at the Slade. He had been a pupil there early on in his career but left on Whistler's suggestion & instead helped Whistler to print his etchings.

Sickert met Degas in the early 1880s.

He was a member of the Royal Society of British Artists & of the New English Art Club {N.E.A.C.} in which Bastien-Lepage was the strongest French influence on the majority of the members, together with Lucien Pissarro, Spencer Gore, Whistler, Henry Tonks, William Rothenstein, Roger Fry, Ethel Walker, Paul Nash, Mark Gertler & Charles Conder. Conder taught Sickert to paint successfully on chicken skin {but why?}

1889 London Impressionist exhibition. The exhibitors were Philip Wilson Steer, Theodore Roussel, Sidney Starr, Francis Starr, Sickert & his brother Bernhard. In 1907 he formed the Fitzroy Group together with Gore, Rothenstein brothers, Harold Gilman, Ethel Sands, Nan Hudson.

1911 Formed Camden Town Group consisting of Walter Bayes, Robert Bevan, Malcolm Drummond, Harold Gilman, Charles Ginner, Spencer Gore, J.D.Innes, Doman Turner, Sickert, Ratcliffe, Wyndham Lewis, Lucien Pissarro, James Manson, M.G. Lightfoot, Henry Lamb, Augustus John.

He played chess & invented a modification of it called 'Sedan', in which the King could be taken. Sickert wrote reviews & articles for the Burlington Magazine, the New Age, the Fortnightly Review & many other publications.

He was a very prolific author, ceaselessly taught & exhibited extensively, formed several groups {see above} owned or rented thirtyeight studios & premises from 1891~1942.

Did this man ever sleep?




Sickert main page
  Gaynor's appreciation of the artist
  Sickert's painting methods
  Where Sickert's paintings may be seen
  Sources of information about Sickert
Recommended Books
  The Well Furlong Book Shop page dedicated to books by and about Walter Sickert. From there you may buy many of the books online.

Other Artists

Francis Bacon
  British painter (1909 - 1992)
Lucian Freud
  British painter (1922 - )
Maggi Hambling
  British Painter (1945 - )


Tate Galleries
  The Tate has a number of Sickert's paintings, many of which may be viewed online.
Ashmolean Museum
  A group of works by W R Sickert at the Sands Gallery.
Courtauld Institute
  Links to major museums and galleries, and other art resources.
University of Reading
  Sickert received an honorary D.Litt in March 1938 from the University of Reading.
Visit this site for more research on Sickert and the history of art.
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Updated 2nd December 2001