Walter Richard Sickert

Born in 1860 in Munich, Sickert was the son of a Danish-German artist, and the illegitimate daughter of the British astronomer Richard Sheepshanks. The family moved to England in 1868, following the German annexation of Schleswig-Holstein. After early schooling, Sickert initially performed small roles in Sir Henry Irving’s company, then studied at the Slade School in 1881. Sickert then became a pupil and etching assistant to James Abbott McNeill Whistler.

In 1883, Sickert travelled to Paris and met Edgar Degas, who had a strong influence on his work, and who advised that Sickert paint in the studio. In 1888, Sickert joined the New English Art Club. His works from this time were depictions of life in London’s music halls. However, these did not prove popular, and were considered both ugly and vulgar. In the later 1880s, Sickert spent much of his time in France, particularly in Dieppe (which was the home of his mistress). Between 1894 and 1904, Sickert made visits to Venice, where he painted the city and its less salubrious inhabitants.

In London, Sickert tended to seek out the working class, or down-at-heel, and with his portrayal of Camden Town prostitutes in the early 1900s, earned a degree of notoriety. In the period before World War One Sickert co-founded the Camden Town Group, which had been meeting informally since 1905. They took from Expressionism and Post-Impressionism, but applied these styles to domestic, often drab life. At this point, Sickert was painting in heavy impasto with a limited tonal range, attempting to capture the viscerality of flesh. From 1908-12, then 1915-18, Sickert taught at Westminster School of Art. In 1910 he founded his own private art school, whose co-principal was the painter Sylvia Gosse. In the 1910s and 20s, Sickert’s earlier, darker tones were lifted, and his works brightened.

The death of Sickert’s second wife in 1920 was followed by a period working and living in Dieppe, until his return to London in 1922. Two years later, he was elected an Associate Royal Academician, before becoming a full Royal Academician in 1934. In 1935, however, he resigned in protest when the president refused to support the preservation of Jacob Epstein’s reliefs on the British Medical Association building.