Walter Richard Sickert

Interior of St Mark’s, Venice

1895–6

On display at Tate Britain

Artist
Walter Richard Sickert 1860–1942
Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 698 x 492 mm
frame: 887 x 678 x 70 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1941
Reference
N05314

Display caption

Sickert first visited Venice in 1895 and lived and worked there for a year. This interior shows the high altar of the cathedral of San Marco. He wrote in late 1895 that Venice was ‘mostly sunny and warmish and on cold days I do interiors of St. Mark’s’.
Like the French Impressionists, Sickert was preoccupied with the effects of both natural and artificial light conveyed in touches of paint. He described his working method at this time as ‘to work open and loose, freely, with a full brush and full colour’.

Gallery label, November 2016

Catalogue entry

Entry

During his visit to Venice in 1895–6, Walter Sickert wrote to his friend Philip Wilson Steer that ‘on cold days I do interiors in St Mark’s ... St Mark’s is engrossing’.1 His aim, he said, was to emulate Steer’s own technique:
To see the thing all at once. To work open and loose, freely, with a full brush and full colour. And to understand that when, with that full colour, the drawing has been got, the picture is done.2
These comments suggest that Sickert made a number of pictures of the interior of St Mark’s, but only one other painting in oils is known, Church Interior with a Figure in a Niche 1895–6 (private collection),3 an oil study of part of the apse. A pencil drawing exists of a third composition, Interior of San Marco, Venice 1895–6 (private collection),4 which shows the basilica filled by its congregation, viewed from a balcony.
The loose painting and free handling of Interior of St Mark’s, Venice suggest that Sickert might well have painted it in situ. Unlike the small studies of the exterior of St Mark’s that he made (see Tate N05914), this is a relatively large canvas that would require an easel to support it. There are no suggestions of composition lines under the paint surface, or squaring up, and so the implication is that Sickert painted the interior from sight, a considerable achievement. Sickert’s position is halfway down the right side of the nave, looking towards the iconostasis and apse, but also allowing a dual perspective on the left up to the mosaics of the Chapel of St Isidore. It is a complicated and ambitious perspective that manages to include much of the interior all at the same time, and gives a sense of the complex vaulting of St Mark’s. The viewpoint is relatively low, suggesting Sickert was seated. Although painted in subdued, restricted colours, Sickert conveys the glitter of mosaics and gilding, and lamps above, with carefully controlled highlights. He was preoccupied with conveying in touches of paint the effects of both natural and artificial light. The art historian Wendy Baron has drawn comparison with the pictures of the Old Bedford music-hall balcony Sickert made before leaving for Venice.5 While Interior of St Mark’s, Venice is more expansive in its composition, the viewpoint looking up, the handling of paint, rich colouring and extravagant architecture all hold strong resonance with the Old Bedford pictures.

Robert Upstone
May 2009

Notes

1
Walter Sickert, letter to Philip Wilson Steer; quoted in Robert Emmons, The Life and Opinions of Walter Richard Sickert, London 1992, p.107.
2
Walter Sickert, letter to Philip Wilson Steer; quoted ibid., pp.107–8.
3
Reproduced in Wendy Baron, Sickert: Paintings and Drawings, New Haven and London 2006, no.100.1 and British and Irish Traditionalist and Modernist Paintings, Watercolours, Drawings and Sculpture, Christie’s, London, 10 June 1988 (358).
4
Baron 2006, no.100.2; reproduced in Modern British and Irish Paintings etc., Sotheby’s, London, 8 March 1995 (70).
5
See Wendy Baron in Sickert: Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy, London 1992 (22).
6
Turner in Venice, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2004, pls.120 and 121. See Robert Upstone, Sickert in Venice, exhibition catalogue, Dulwich Picture Gallery, London 2009, p.16.
7
John Marshall, ‘Obituary: Mr Howard Bliss’, Times, 2 July 1977, p.14.
8
From Gainsborough to Hitchens: A Selection of Paintings and Drawings from the Howard Bliss Collection, exhibition catalogue, Leicester Galleries, London 1950.
9
Ibid., p.6.

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