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Walter Richard Sickert: 1860 - 1942

Walter Richard Sickert was born in Munich on May 31, 1860. His mother was an English woman, his father a Danish artist employed in Germany as an illustrator on a comic journal. In 1868 the family settled in England. When Sickert left school at the age of 17 he wished to paint but, discouraged from this by his father, turned instead to the stage. In 1881, however, after four years of small parts under Henry Irving and other well known actors, he entered the Slade Art School in London.



At about this time he met James McNeill Whistler, and became his studio assistant in 1882. The next year, armed with letters of introduction to Manet and Degas, he was entrusted with seeing Whistler's Portrait of the Artist's Mother safely to Paris, where it was to be shown at the Salon. Manet was ill, but Degas received the young painter, and their friendship lasted until Degas's death in 1917.

As was to be expected, Sickert's early work, influenced by Whistler and Degas and concerned, like theirs, with form and composition rather than color and light, was as untypical of Impressionism as was theirs. When Sickert showed for the first time, at the Society of British Artists in London, in 1884, it was as a "pupil of Whistler."

His life slipped into a regular pattern, unbroken for 15 years. In 1885 he married the daughter of a Liberal politician and spent the summer, like many subsequent summers, across the English Channel in Dieppe. He also visited Venice from time to time. He made numerous paintings from his sketches of the London music halls and their audiences, or held evening classes. In 1893 he opened an art school in London under Whistler's patronage. He often showed with the New English Art Club, founded in 1886 in opposition to the Royal Academy. He showed once with Les XX in Brussels and took part in the exhibition of British Impressionists held in London in 1889. In 1894 and 1895 his paintings were reproduced in "The Yellow Book", to which Aubrey Beardsley was the chief contributor at the time.

Sickert's friendship with the dictatorial Whistler ended after a court case in which they took opposite side. In 1899 Sickert was divorced and went to live in Venice, Dieppe, and Paris for six years. Back in London in 1905, he set up a studio in Soho and took rooms in Camden Town. His output was now almost exclusively music hall scenes and the faded life around him. He taught at the Westminster Institute, started a school for etching, and held shows at London and Paris galleries.

In 1911 Sickert founded the Camden Town Group, enlarged and renamed the London Group three years later. Among the original members were Lucien Pissarro and Spencer Gore (who were exponents of the Neo-Impressionist, or Pointillist style that Sickert adopted for a time), Augustus John, and Henry Lamb, all of which were accustomed to meet in his studio. Among the members of the enlarged group were Jacob Epstein and Paul and John Nash.

Sickert became an associate of the Royal Academy in 1924 and an academician ten years later. But shortly afterwards he resigned in protest against the hostile attitude of the president toward the work of Epstein. In 1941 Sickert was honored with a one-man exhibition at the National Gallery in London. The next year he died in Bath, England, on January 22.

Much of his later career was devoted to teaching and writing. The merit of his later paintings, which were frequently re-creations of press photographs or Victorian illustrations, is hotly contested. They have been regarded both as a deplorable lapse in quality and as Sickert's most interesting work.

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