Walter Sickert and the Camden Town Groups

Nov 10 2015

Hannah Brignell, Curator of Visual Art gives an insight into the life of artist Walter Sickert, whose work is currently on show at the Graves Gallery:

Researching Sickert and Lessore for our current display in the Graves Gallery has been a wonderful opportunity for me to delve into the life of this fascinating artist. There are so many stories to tell, but it’s been particularly interesting to find out more about who and what inspired his work, and also the circle of artists he worked with.

‘I am a French Painter... As a pupil of Whistler, I derive from the French School.’ 

Walter Richard Sickert always considered himself as a French artist, even though we generally think of him a British painter. He had a long standing connection with France, having lived there for many years, and his work drew inspiration from the French artists such as Edgar Degas, Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro. He spent many years in the French port of Dieppe, a place that inspired him. It was here he produced some of his greatest work and truly developed his painting technique, earning himself the title ‘The Canaletto of Dieppe’.

Sickert started life as an actor but soon realised that this was not his true vocation – he wanted to become an artist. He began to train at Slade School of Art, but only lasted a few months before going to study under the great painter and printmaker James McNeil Whistler. Whistler had a great impact on Sickert’s work and clearly shaped his painting styles, use of colour and techniques. Sickert and Whistler were both influenced by the impressionists, who were fascinated by light, championing painting ‘en plein air’ (outdoors) and very much painting the world around them

One of Sickert’s greatest influences was his friend Edgar Degas, particularly his method of composing paintings by making numerous preparatory drawings and then transforming them in the studio. Degas’ influence also saw him begin to introduce figurative elements to his work and broaden his range of subject matter. 

L'Hotel Royal, Dieppe by Walter Sickert

Sickert was inspired by everyday life – from the seedy interiors of brothels and the captivating allure of the theatre, right through to the tranquillity of rural landscapes, these subjects dominated his painting career for most of his life. Sickert also made a series influenced by Jack the Ripper and the Camden Town Murder. Interestingly, long after his death there was speculation that Sickert was in fact the Ripper himself, but there has been never been any evidence to support this.

In 1905, Sickert returned from Dieppe after meeting the painter Spencer Gore. His return was instrumental in the formation of the Camden Town Group. In 1907 Sickert began inviting artists to his home in Fitzrova for regular meetings, where artists could show their work to patrons and other artists. In 1907 Sickert formed the Fitzroy Street Group- he began inviting artists to his home in Fitzrova for regular meetings, where artists could show their work to patrons and other artists. The Camden Town Group formed just a few years later in 1911. made up of 16 British painters, including; Harold Gilman, Spencer Gore, Malcolm Drummond, Charles Ginner, Augustus John, Percy Wyndham Lewis and Lucien Pissarro, just to name a few. They all worked in very different styles but had the same interest in following the impressionists and post impressionists revolutions. They painted urban and daily life in Britain, of interiors and of ordinary working class people.

Although they shared very modern ideas, the group didn’t include any women. However, just two years later in 1913, their thinking had evolved; the Camden Town Group became the London Group and women artists were invited to join, including Sickert’s third wife, Therese Lessore. Sickert had admired her work for many years and her work was strongly influence by him. They married in 1926 and lived many happy and creative years together.

Sickert became one of the key figures in modern British art. He was a prolific artist; painting for over 6o years. His legacy is hugely important, inspiring artists including Frank Auerbach, Hockney and many more. It’s been wonderful to explore his remarkable work and celebrate it here at the Graves.

To find out more about the lives of Sickert and Lessore visit our display, A Tale of Two Artists: Sickert and Lessore at the Graves Art Gallery until 30 January 2016.

Top: Eating House by Harold Gilman. Image © Museums Sheffield
Bottom: L'Hotel Royal, Dieppe by Walter Sickert. Image © Museums Sheffield







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