Late last year I visited Liverpool’s famous Walker Art Gallery. Nestled in the heart of the city, The Walker collection dates from 1819 and is today home to one of the largest art collections in England outside London.
The gallery itself is surrounded by some of the most beautiful neoclassical buildings in England, including the William Brown Library, the Hornby Library, the Picton Reading Room, the World Museum Liverpool and St. George’s Hall. Whilst the latter is indisputably Liverpool’s jewel-in-the-crown, taken together this magnificent clutch of public architecture represents a collection that would grace any city on earth - no better setting then for an art gallery!
Walter Richard Sickert is one of Britain’s most important artists, and the ongoing Sickert exhibition was the reason for my trip to The Walker. Born in Munich in 1860, Sickert moved to Britain as a young child. Sickert’s father, Oswald, also an artist, made the decision in 1868 to relocate his family to England in order to escape the turmoil that dominated the region during the period.
From an early age Sickert showed an intense interest in art. He soon began to work as an apprentice to James Abbott McNeill Whistler, the American painter, who, along with the French Impressionist Edward Degas, hugely influenced his early work.
Husum, 1876, thought to be his earliest surviving work
Robert (or possibly Walter) Sickert as a child. Robert was Walter's younger brother. Sickert’s father, Oswald, trained as a painter and worked as an illustrator for the weekly satirical paper ‘Fliegende Blatter’ (‘Flying Pages’)
In 1883 Sickert travelled to Paris to meet Degas. Degas inspired Sickert to develop his own personal version of Impressionism. In 1888 Sickert joined the New English Art Club and it was during this time that Sickert began to paint scenes from London’s music halls. It was at this point too that Sickert made his first visits to Dieppe, on the Normandy coast.
Minnie Cunningham, 1892. Cunningham was a music hall performer
Gallery of the Old Bedford, 1895
Little Dot Hetherington at the Old Bedford Music Hall, 1890. It is suggested that this painting (and the one immediately above) were designed to hang together
Sickert made a series of visits to Venice between 1894-1904, where he focused on the city’s topography.
The Façade of St Mark’s. Red Sky at Night, 1896
The Lion of St Mark, 1896
The Rialto Bridge and the Palazzo dei Camerlenghi, 1904
The Horses of St Mark’s, 1905
San Marco at Night, 1910
Numerous paintings from Sickert’s time in his beloved Dieppe.
Bathers, Dieppe, 1902
Saint Jacques, La Rue Pecquet, 1908
In Britain Sickert became increasingly fascinated by urban culture and in 1905 acquired a studio in Camden Town, from which he would produce a series of female nudes, paintings which would soon gain a certain notoriety, being indirectly association with a high-profile murder.
A Dancer in a Green Dress, Marie, 1916
Perhaps Sickert’s most celebrated piece of work is Ennui (1914). There are 5 versions of this painting
Sickert frequently returned to Dieppe, where he would paint scenes of casinos and cafes, and he briefly relocated here after the death of his second wife.
A short while later Sickert returned to Britain where he would face a decline in his health. This was reflected in his later paintings, which are often characterized by a darkness of mood, in clear contrast to his earlier pieces of fun frivolity.
Walter Sickert passed away aged 81 in 1942. His contribution to art in Britain was enormous and he is remembered today as one of the pivotal components in the transition from Impressionism to Modernism.
You can visit the exhibition – Sickert: A Life in Art - at The Walker Art Gallery until 27 February. Admission: £13.50.