Walter Richard Sickert Minnie Cunningham at the Old Bedford 1892

Artwork details

Artist
Title
Minnie Cunningham at the Old Bedford
Date 1892
Medium Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions Support: 765 x 638 mm
frame: 915 x 787 x 69 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition Purchased 1976
Reference
T02039
On display at Tate Britain
Room: 1890

Catalogue entry

Entry

Background

Born in Birmingham in the West Midlands, Minnie Cunningham was a ‘serio-comic’ singer and dancer in the music halls (fig.1). Her career began around 1888, during which year she performed at a number of London music halls, including the Oxford, the Parthenon and Collins’, being described as a ‘youthful singer and dancer’.1 Owing to confusion with an American actress of the same name born in 1855 there has formerly been a belief that she was, when Sickert painted her, a middle-aged performer,2 adding an extra layer of irony and salaciousness to the songs she sang about herself in the character of an innocent schoolgirl. But, in fact, Cunningham was a young woman in her early twenties when Sickert met her in 1892, and was described by the poet Arthur Symons in a letter to a friend as ‘very pretty, very nice, very young’.3
Minnie Cunningham
Fig.1
Minnie Cunningham
Photo © The Mander and Mitchenson Theatre Collection / ArenaPal
Walter Richard Sickert 'Gatti's Hungerford Palace of Varieties, Second Turn of Katie Lawrence' c.1902–3
Fig.2
Walter Richard Sickert
Gatti's Hungerford Palace of Varieties, Second Turn of Katie Lawrence c.1902–3
© Estate of Walter R. Sickert / DACS Photo © Yale University Art Gallery

Cunningham was successful, and shared the bill with such stars as Ada Reeve, Marie Lloyd and Katie Lawrence, all of whose acts were also painted by Sickert (see, for example, fig.2).4 She adopted the stage persona and dress of a teenage girl and sang what Marie Lloyd described as ‘romping schoolgirl songs’.5 Like other such serio-comic performers, such songs were laced with sexually provocative double-entendres that circumvented the obscenity laws. Cunningham wrote many of her own songs, with such titles as The Art of Love, It’s Not the Hen that Cackles the Most that Lays the Largest Egg,6 Did You Ever See a Feather in a Tom Cat’s Tail? and Bridget and Mike, An Irish Serenade.7 When Sickert exhibited his picture of Minnie Cunningham for the first time at the New English Art Club in 1892, his title specified that she was singing I’m an Old Hand at Love, Though I’m Young in Years.

Related works and inspiration

Exhibition and reception

Ownership

Robert Upstone
May 2009

Notes

1
Tate Gallery Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1976–8, London 1979, p.133.
2
See Anna Gruetzner Robins, ‘Sickert “Painter-in-Ordinary” to the Music-Hall’, in Sickert: Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy, London 1992, pp.18–22.
3
Arthur Symons, letter to Ernest Rhys, in Karl Beckson and John M. Munro (eds.), Arthur Symons: Selected Letters 1880–1935, London 1989, p.95.
4
Tate Gallery Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1976–8, London 1979, p.133.
5
See Richard Shone in From Beardsley to Beaverbrook: Portraits by Walter Richard Sickert, exhibition catalogue, Victoria Art Gallery, Bath 1990 (4).
6
See Robins 1992, p.20.
7
British Library catalogue, nos. H.3980.m(32.) and H.3980.m(33.).
8
Arthur Symons, letter to Ernest Rhys, 17 February 1892, in Beckson and Munro (eds.) 1989, p.95.
9
Arthur Symons, ‘An Original Dancer’, Star, 20 February 1892; quoted in Robins 1992, p.19.
10
Arthur Symons, ‘The Primrose Dance: Tivoli – to Minnie Cunningham’, 20 March 1892; first published in Sketch, 4 October 1893; quoted ibid., p.19 n.30.
11
Karl Beckson (ed.), The Memoirs of Arthur Symons, Life and Art in the 1890s, London 1978, p.71.
12
Arthur Symons, letter to Herbert Horne, 25 May 1892, in Beckson and Munro (eds.) 1989, p.96 n.7.
13
Robins 1992, p.19.
14
Such as Tate Gallery Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1976–8, London 1979, p.132.
15
Wendy Baron, Sickert: Paintings and Drawings, New Haven and London 2006, no.47.
16
Reproduced ibid., no.38.
17
Walter Sickert, letter to Minnie Cunningham, 31 August 1897, private collection; quoted in Baron 2006, no.94.
18
See Sickert: Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy, London 1992 (14).
19
Quoted in Robins 1992, pp.19–20.
20
Idler, March 1895, p.173; Baron, 2006, no.94.3; reproduced in Royal Academy 1992, fig.91.
21
Baron 2006, no.94.1.
22
Reproduced ibid., no.94.2.
23
Ibid., no.94.4.
24
Ibid., no.94.5.
25
See Robins 1992, p.13.
26
Baron 2006, no.44.
27
Quoted in Robins 1992, p.13.
28
Quoted ibid.
29
Andrew McLaren Young et al, The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and London 1980, no.101.
30
Reproduced ibid., no.137.
31
See Degas, Sickert and Toulouse-Lautrec: London and Paris 1870–1910, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2006, p.120.
32
Birmingham Gazette, 21 November 1892.
33
Black and White, 26 November 1892.
34
Life, 26 November 1892.
35
Northern Whig, 30 November 1892.
36
‘The Glasgow School’, Speaker, 10 December 1892.
37
Spectator, 26 November 1892, p.770.
38
Birmingham Gazette, 21 November 1892.
39
‘The New English Art Club’, Daily Graphic, 21 November 1892.
40
Reproduced in Baron 2006, no.52.
41
Ibid., no.168.5.

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