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Walter Sickert: The Triumph of Boldness

English painter of German origin, Walter Sickert (1860-1942) is, with Philipe Steer (1860-1942), his exact contemporary, a major figure of Impressionism in Great Britain. Encouraged by James Whistler and Edgar Degas, he himself became a mentor for the younger generations who gathered around him in Camden Town. Rarely present in French collections, it is the subject of an important retrospective from October 14, 2022 to January 29, 2023 on the occasion of the exhibition "Paint and transgress" at the Petit Palais in Paris, in partnership with the Tate Britain.

White Ships, 1908, watercolor over graphite, with gouache and wax resist, Brooklyn Museum
. Walter Sickert, Little Dot Harrington at the Old Bedford, © Photo James Mann, Collection particulière

For the Sickerts, painting is a family affair. Walter's grandfather was a decorative painter and his father, Oswald Adalbert, a painter from the Munich school, was a student in Paris of Couture, like Édouard Manet, and a friend of Fantin-Latour.

Strongly influenced by his father, he worked in Otto Schölderer's studio and went to Paris at Whistler's invitation. He will bind there with Edgar Degas whose influence will mark his work durably from 1890.

Soldats espagnols, ch. 1903, aquarelle sur mine de plomb, avec gouache, Brooklyn Museum
Walter Sickert, The Acting Manager, 1885-1886, Londres, Collection particulière, © Christie’s Images Bridgeman Images

The theater and music-hall scenes, the views of Dieppe (where he settled from 1898 to 1905) and those of Venice are the major elements of Sickert's inspiration. He became close to Jacques-Émile Blanche, Pierre Bonnard, Claude Monet and even Camille Pissarro. His paintings reveal atypical compositions, daring framings and an incomparable mastery of the play of light.

Back in London in 1905, he spread his fine knowledge of French painting in England through his criticisms, his influence on certain exhibitions or through his teaching.

Pêcheur majorquin, 1908, huile sur toile, Collection privée
Walter Sickert, Black Bird of Paradise, 1892, Leeds City Art Gallery, © Leeds Museums and Galleries, UK, Bridgeman Images

In 1925, he opened a painting school in Manchester. The following year he became a professor at the Royal Academy School, and in 1928 he was president of the Royal Society of British Artists. In the interwar period, he will use (followed in this years later by Andy Warhol) for some of his works the transposition of press photographs, but the treatment he makes of them is such that it is impossible to realize this at first glance.

Fresque de la bibliothèque de Boston par John Singer Sargent
Walter Sickert par Georges Charles B... 1911

From 1933 to his death in 1942, he resided in Bath and became friends with Virginia Woolf who greatly appreciated his work. The latter will publish a book: "Walter Sickert, a conversation", where she writes in particular: "No one, in our time, will write a life like Sickert paints it!"


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In his art history lectures, Fabrice Roy combines the past with the present, in a poetic and playful evocation of the French 19th century...



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