Walter Sickert (1860-1942)
Edgar Degas, whom Sickert met in Paris. Degas encouraged art that was free from the ‘tyranny of nature’, and as a result Sickert painted mostly inside his studio, from memory or from drawings. His first important works depicted scenes from London music halls, usually from an ambiguous perspective with a confused sense of spatial relationships. At the time, female performers were considered morally equivalent to prostitutes, and many of Sickert’s ‘provocative’ paintings incited controversy. Sickert became fascinated with urban culture, and purchased a number of studios in working-class areas of London. He produced several realist paintings inspired by the Camden Town murder, an event in 1907 which featured prominently in the press. Sickert also displayed a strong interest in the murders of Jack the Ripper, creating a painting called Jack the Ripper’s Bedroom.
Although his style was heavily influenced by Impressionism, the realistic aspect of Sickert’s paintings was unprecedented in Britain. He became famous for his paintings of obese nudes, with the fleshiness of his subject equivalent to the thickness of paint used in the picture. Sickert was a founding member of the Camden Town Group of British painters in 1911. Focus was laid on scenes of ordinary suburban life. Sickert’s best known work, Ennui, portrays a couple sitting in a drab room, gazing into space.
The Camden Town Murder
Sickert taught at Westminster School of Art for a number of years, and set up an art school in Manchester where he taught Henry Rutherford – named by Sickert as his ‘intellectual heir’. The work of Walter Sickert had a strong influence on later generations of British artists, including Lucien Freud, Francis Bacon and Frank Auerbach.