Walter Richard Sickert

L’Armoire à Glace

1924

Artist
Walter Richard Sickert 1860–1942
Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 610 x 381 mm
frame: 745 x 517 x 83 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1941
Reference
N05313

Not on display

Display caption

Sickert made sketches for this work in 1922 while he was living and working in Dieppe, but began this painting back in London. The model was Marie Pepin, whom he had employed as a maidservant since 1911. The French title means 'wardrobe with mirror', and prioritises the wardrobe rather than the woman who is seated in the background. Sickert described the scene as 'a sort of study á la [the novelist] Balzac. The little lower middle-class woman... sitting by the wardrobe which is her idol and bank, so devised that the overweight of the mirror-door would bring the whole structure down on her if it were not temporarily held back by a wire.'

Gallery label, August 2004

Catalogue entry

Entry

L’Armoire à glace (The Mirrored Wardrobe), is one of a series of works from 1921–4 in which Walter Sickert returned to and reprised a favourite theme from his earlier Camden Town period, that of the domestic interior. The painting shows a glimpsed view through an open doorway of a woman seated in a darkened bedroom. She is partially hidden behind a large wardrobe with a mirrored door in which is reflected part of her arm and the bed on the opposite side of the room. The woman is wearing a light coloured dress and blue-grey boots and is sitting with her hands folded in her lap. The features of her face have been left unresolved. The colour palette of the painting is similar to that of Ennui c.1914 (Tate N03846), with yellow, orange and brown dominating the composition. Sickert first represented the image as an etching, L’Armoire à glace, dated 1922,1 and there are a number of related preparatory sketches (see Tate N05312 and N06087, figs.1 and 2). A full list can be found in Wendy Baron’s 2006 catalogue.2 The painting, inscribed on the canvas 1924, reproduces exactly the appearance and composition of the etching except that the edge of the door and doorknob are omitted from the right-hand edge of the painted work.

In common with paintings from around 1910–14 such as Ennui, the setting for the subject was an address occupied by Sickert himself, although in this case the artist was not in residence in London, but in Dieppe. The precise location is revealed as an inscription on the third state of the etching: on the bottom right-hand corner of the plate is written ‘Rue Aguado’. This refers to 44 Rue Aguado, a seafront flat in Dieppe where Sickert leased rooms during 1921–2.3 His only companion at this time was Marie Pepin, a French peasant whom Sickert had first employed as a servant while he and his wife were living at Envermeu in 1913. Pepin was the Gallic counterpart of her Camden Town namesake, Marie Hayes (see Tate N03846). She was extremely loyal to the Sickerts, even returning to London with them during the war despite the fact that she did not speak English, and she later nursed Christine Sickert in her final illness. After Christine’s death in 1920 Marie stayed on with Sickert and played an important role in looking after the bereaved and depressed artist, accompanying him when he moved from Envermeu to Dieppe in 1921. By the summer Sickert had rallied sufficiently to begin working again in earnest. He wrote to his sister-in-law, Andrina Schweder: ‘I have sittings by electric light nearly every day in [the] flat at No.44 and am deep in figure subjects again.’4 He employed Marie’s niece as a model, and later persuaded Marie herself to sit for him. According to the art historian Lilian Browse, Marie was the model for L’Armoire à glace.5 The acidic oranges and yellows and dark contrasting shadows may be a response to working by the harsh glare of electric lighting.

Nicola Moorby
March 2005

Notes

1
Reproduced in Ruth Bromberg, Walter Sickert Prints: A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London 2000, no.200.
2
Wendy Baron, Sickert: Paintings and Drawings, New Haven and London 2006, nos.557.1–11.
3
Matthew Sturgis, Walter Sickert: A Life, London 2005, pp.522–4.
4
Walter Sickert, letter to Andrina Schweder, 3 November 1921, Tate Archive TGA 8120/1/4.
5
Lilian Browse, Sickert, London 1960, p.37.
6
Walter Sickert, letter to W.H. Stephenson, undated [1924]; quoted in William Henry Stephenson (ed.), Sickert, the Man and his Art: Random Reminiscences, expanded edn, Southport 1940, p.17.
7
Reproduced in Tate Collections file.
8
Walter Sickert, ‘The True Futurism’, Burlington Magazine, March 1916, in Anna Gruetzner Robins (ed.), Walter Sickert: The Complete Writings on Art, Oxford 2000, pp.404–5.
9
Honoré de Balzac, Cousin Bette, trans. by Kathleen Raine, London 1948, pp.63–4.
10
New Statesman, 22 May 1926.
11
Queen, 3 March 1926.
12
Virginia Woolf, Walter Sickert: A Conversation, London 1934.
13
Quoted in Stella Tillyard, ‘The End of Victorian Art: W.R. Sickert and the Defence of Illustrative Painting’, in Brian Allen (ed.), Towards a Modern Art World, New Haven and London 1995, p.190.
14
Baron 2006, no.557.8; reproduced in Walter Sickert: ‘drawing is the thing’, exhibition catalogue, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester 2004 (3.11).
15
Modern British Art, Philips, London, 9 March 1993 (lot 37a); Baron 2006, no.557.2; reproduced in W.R. Sickert: Drawings and Paintings 1890–1942, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, Liverpool 1989, p.33.
16
Sturgis 2005, p.303.
17
Ibid.
18
Reproduced in Baron 2006, no.556.
19
Reproduced ibid., no.555.
20
Reproduced ibid., no.554.
21
Ibid., nos.557.10–11, 557.10 reproduced.
22
Reproduced in Bromberg 2000, no.201.
23
Ibid., p.254.
24
Reproduced in Stephenson 1940, p.4.
25
Ibid., p.9.
26
Ibid.

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