First exhibited under the title Dieppe at the April exhibition of the New English Art Club in 1891, Walter Sickert’s picture attracted only modest critical attention, although all of it was positive. Generally the show received few reviews, and most of those focused on Philip Wilson Steer’s Mrs Cyprian Williams (Tate N04422). The Sunday Times noted of the exhibition that:
The present collection offers nothing to shock or amaze the average picture buyer. Mr Walter Sickert gives us no more startling studies of the music-halls ... [he] has never done anything better than ‘Dieppe’, a vivid vision of the place that palpitates with actuality, and is entirely pictorial.1
The Echo concurred, writing that Sickert was
usually the amusingly eccentric exhibitor at these shows. But this year it has pleased him to demonstrate to the outer public that there was something in his private reputation. His ‘Dieppe’, a street scene, a blue picture in a black frame, is full of motion, light, and sparkle, happy and true, distinctly the best thing he has ever shown.2
The Café des Tribunaux was one of the best-known landmarks of Dieppe, and continues its trade today. It stands at the focal point of the town on the Puits Salé, where two streets that run up from the harbour side, the Rue St Jacques and the Grande Rue, converge. Sickert shows the view down the Grande Rue, the main shopping street of Dieppe. Since 1945 the café has been refaced and the Grande Rue widened, so that the shops on the right of the picture no longer exist.
Dieppe was a popular town with British visitors and holidaymakers in this period, and the Café des Tribunaux was a common destination. As a familiar sight it might be assumed that the subject would appeal to picture buyers. The prominent British presence in Dieppe is attested to by the barber’s sign on the right of Sickert’s picture which is partly in English. Sickert himself had a long-standing connection with the town. He first went there on holiday with his parents in August 1879 and after his engagement in 1885 visited regularly. Later he had a studio there and spent much of his time between 1895 and 1905 in the town. Dieppe became a focus for a long series of paintings by Sickert from this time (including Tate N05045, N05094, N05096), but it also formed the subject of some of his earliest works, small oil on panel studies from 1885 of the beach and local sites.3
Sunday Times, 12 April 1891.
Echo, 16 April 1891.
Wendy Baron, Sickert: Paintings and Drawings, New Haven and London 2006, nos.19–31, reproduced.
Star, 3 December 1889.
Matthew Sturgis, Walter Sickert: A Life, London 2005, p.222.
Oswald Sickert, letter to Edward Marsh, 30 August 1895; quoted in Edward Marsh, A Number of People: A Book of Reminiscences, London 1939, p.51.
Ruth Bromberg, Walter Sickert Prints: A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London 2000, no.56, reproduced.
Baron 2006, no.84.1, reproduced
Ibid., no.84.2, reproduced.
Cambridge Observer, 7 February 1893; Baron 2006, no.84.3; reproduced in Lillian Browse, Sickert, London 1960, pl.9a.
Marsh 1939, p.365.