Sunday 6 March 2022

Sickert as a Sickert

This bearded old cove with the air of a retired tug-boat skipper, sporting jaunty red shoes and a jaunty red cravat, is none other than that giant of early 20th-century English art Walter Sickert. The portrait is by the doyen of the Dieppe art scene Jacques-Emile Blanche, who has paid his sitter (stander) the compliment of adopting something of Sickert's own free, dabbing style, making, you might say, a Sickert of Sickert. 
The two artists were born within a year of each other and died in the same year (1942). While both were living in Dieppe they were for quite a long time on friendly terms, but the prickly and secretive Sickert was never easy to get on with, and was always inclined to drop old friends (including, notoriously, Oscar Wilde). When Sickert was first in Dieppe, the well connected Blanche gave him much help and encouragement, getting his paintings exhibited in Parisian galleries, securing commissions for him, and buying large amounts of his work himself. However, this did not prevent Sickert later treating his benefactor shabbily, and dismissing both his art and his personality. In 1909 he wrote to the wife of one of his patrons: 
'You may not, probably do not know that in a sense I have treated Blanche who is a very old friend very badly ... The peculiar angle of his somewhat gossipy mind, and ... pushing character of his art politics, which happen to be diametrically opposed to mine, decided me that it was absolutely necessary for my peace & comfort to avoid him & his friends as much as I could. He is a little too officious, kindly officious, but too inconvenient & too compromising. Fortunately the reality of my incessant occupation has enabled me to avoid many people I used constantly to see, without apparent unkindness ... I have even written displeasing things about Blanche’s work in my articles.'
Charming – and sadly typical of Sickert's behaviour.  
The painting above, painted in 1935 when both artists were in their mid-70s, is in the collection of the Manchester Art Gallery. 

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