Ethel Sands was born in America, but grew up in Britain. She was wealthy, and owned houses in Chelsea, at Newington near Oxford and at Auppegard in Normandy, where Tea with Walter Richard Sickert was painted. The painter Walter Sickert (1860-1942) was a friend, whom she had met first in 1906 when he expressed admiration for a picture she had sent to the Salon d'Automne in Paris and who had pursued her acquaintance. The following year Sickert invited her to join his newly-created Fitzroy Street Group which sought to promote a form of Impressionist naturalism in Britain. In the years 1906 to 1914 Sands was an important literary and artistic patron, and her house was one of the social centres of modern art in London.

Sands's own painting was of a mild Anglo-French type comparable with that of her friend Jacques-Emile Blanche (1861-1942), although the late Impressionist control of colour and the intimiste subject of Tea with Walter Richard Sickert is comparable too with the pictures of Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940). The portrait of Sickert is interesting as it illustrates him during the Camden Town period and also serves as a record of the character of his relationship with Sands and her partner, the painter Nan Hudson (1869-1957). Sickert lounges in his armchair smoking at the far side of the scene; never averse to proffering his opinions, he once wrote to Ethel Sands that he was returning to live in London 'to complete all your educations'. The woman in the foreground is likely to be Nan Hudson. The tea is set for three and, as they wait for the kettle, with the teapot lid open, Sands has left her place to paint the event, or so it seems.

Further reading:
Wendy Baron, Miss Ethel Sands and her Circle, London, 1977, pp.93, 95-6

Robert Upstone
February 2002