Walter Richard SickertClaude Phillip Martin 1935

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Artwork details

Artist
Walter Richard Sickert (1860‑1942)
Title
Claude Phillip Martin
Date 1935
MediumOil paint on canvas
Dimensionssupport: 1270 x 1016 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition Presented by Sir Alec Martin KBE through the Art Fund 1958
Reference
T00223
Not on display

Catalogue entry

This portrait of the fourteen-year-old Claude Phillip Martin, Alec and Ada Martin’s youngest son, was taken both from life as well as photographs. The only one of the Martins’ six children to sit for Sickert, he is rendered on a smaller canvas and in a higher-key palette than the portraits of his parents (T00221 and T00222). Casually seated on a brick wall in the garden of the Martins’ house at Kingsgate, Claude Phillip rests a cricket bat across his lap, squinting calmly at the viewer through bright sunlight.
Walter Richard Sickert 1860–1942
Claude Phillip Martin
1935
Oil paint on canvas
1270 x 1016 mm
Inscribed by the artist in brown paint ‘Sickert, Hauteville’ bottom right and ‘To our dear Alec’ bottom left
Presented by Sir Alec Martin, K.B.E., through the National Art Collections Fund 1958
T00223

Entry

Alec and Ada Martin had six children: three daughters, Mary, Nora (who died before her tenth birthday) and Joan, and three sons, Hugh Percy, William Alexander and Claude Phillip, the subject of Sickert’s 1935 portrait. Claude Phillip was born in 1921 and was named after his godfather, the art critic and keeper of the Wallace Collection, Sir Claude Phillips (1846–1924). In 1935 he was fourteen years old and a pupil at St Paul’s School, London.1 It is not known why Sickert painted only the Martins’ youngest son instead of the other children. The portrait forms the third of a trio with Sir Alec Martin (Tate T00221, fig.1) and Lady Martin (Tate T00222, fig.2), but is slightly smaller in size and uses a higher-keyed palette.
Walter Richard Sickert 'Sir Alec Martin, KBE' 1935
Fig.1
Walter Richard Sickert
Sir Alec Martin, KBE 1935
© Tate
Walter Richard Sickert 'Lady Martin' 1935
Fig.2
Walter Richard Sickert
Lady Martin 1935
© Tate

The portrait depicts the young boy dressed in a white open-necked, short-sleeved shirt, cream trousers and white plimsolls. He is sitting on a wall at the bottom of a flight of steps leading from the house in the background to the garden. Sir Alec Martin recalled that, unlike the portraits of himself and his wife, the portrait of his son was started in the garden of the Martins’ house, Marandellas, at Kingsgate.2 Most of the painting, however, was completed in Sickert’s studio, and the work is inscribed with the name of Sickert’s house in St Peter’s-in-Thanet, Hauteville. Lady Martin recalled that photographs were taken of her son for use in undertaking the commission and, indeed, the portrait has the feel of an informal snapshot.3 Richard Morphet has described Claude Phillip Martin as ‘at once banal and archetypal, lifelike and abstract, particular and almost banner-like, casual and timeless’ and has compared Sickert’s use of photographic material with Andy Warhol’s practice of selecting and enhancing photo-based images in his work.4 The sitter is holding a cricket bat across his lap as though he has just been called away from playing in the garden. His gaze is open and relaxed and he grins directly at the viewer, squinting slightly as though looking into the sun. Sickert’s treatment of the figure makes a feature of the harsh shadows in the creases of Claude Phillip’s trousers and the lack of detail in his face as though aestheticising and replicating the effect of halation, the blurring of an object in the glare of bright daylight.
The calm banality portrayed by the portrait is sadly at odds with the sitter’s subsequent life, sketched out in a letter to the Tate Gallery by his father.5 Claude Phillip’s final year at school coincided with the outbreak of the Second World War and on leaving education he joined up and fought with the British army in Austria. He returned from the conflict physically uninjured but his experiences as a soldier caused him to have a breakdown soon after his return and he tragically never fully recovered his health. He died in December 1979, aged fifty-eight.

Nicola Moorby
January 2006

Notes

1
Wendy Baron and Richard Shone (eds.), Sickert: Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy, London 1992, p.324.
2
Sir Alec Martin, letter to Dennis Farr, 30 December 1958, Tate Catalogue file.
3
Ibid.
4
Richard Morphet, ‘The Modernity of Late Sickert’, Studio International, vol.190, no.976, July–August 1975, p.37.
5
Sir Alec Martin, letter to Dennis Farr, 30 December 1958, Tate Catalogue file.

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