Walter Richard Sickert

Miss Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies as Isabella of France

1932

On display at Tate Britain

Artist
Walter Richard Sickert 1860–1942
Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Frame: 1173 x 115 mm, 92 kg, 2705 mm
support: 2451 x 921 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by the Art Fund, the Contemporary Art Society and C. Frank Stoop through the Contemporary Art Society 1932
Reference
N04673

Display caption

Sickert loved the theatre and became a friend of the actress Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies after writing her a fan letter in 1932. This painting shows her in the role of Queen Isabella of France in Christopher Marlowe’s 16th-century play Edward II. The name ‘La Louve’ means ‘she-wolf’, a hostile title given to the historical Isabella. The production had taken place nine years earlier, and Sickert painted this picture from a small photograph, taken by Bertram Park, of the actress on stage. The painting was an immediate success and the Daily Mail described it as ‘Mr Sickert’s Best Work’.

Gallery label, September 2016

Catalogue entry

Entry

Background

The list of celebrities and public figures with whom Walter Sickert was friendly at various points of his life is extraordinary. As a young man he had pursued a career on the stage and had rubbed shoulders with actors such as Henry Irving and Ellen Terry. His love of the theatre remained with him throughout his life, particularly manifesting itself in his devotion to the music hall. During the 1930s, however, when the music hall was in decline, he began to focus his attention on modern theatre and the new generation of up-and-coming actors who would go on to become legends in their own lifetime.
In March 1932 he saw one of these rising stars of the stage, Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies (1891–1992, fig.1), in a play called Precious Bane, an adaptation of a popular novel by Mary Webb. With his typical combination of charm and élan he wrote to the actress praising her performance and asking her to lunch with him and his wife. She had never heard of him before but was encouraged to take up the invitation by her mother who was aware of Sickert’s reputation as an important artist. Mrs Ffrangcon-Davies Senior encouraged her daughter to record her impressions of the ‘great’ man in a red leather-bound book. After their first meeting on 7 April at the St Pancras Station hotel Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies described Sickert as looking:
like a rather disreputable old bookmaker, as Cedric Hardwicke would play one – in a plaid suit, with swallow-tailed coat and a grey billycock hat – He has a finely-cut sensitive face with untidy white hair falling all over the place, but withal a great distinction. One would say at once ‘Oh who is that?’ He spoke much and very flatteringly of my work, for which he professes an extravagant admiration, but was very disappointed, so he said to find me so young! ... He is an old man 72, but full of life and sparkle tho’ I fear he drinks too much – consuming the best part of two bottles of champagne at lunch, after which he became a little vague but still very courteous, charming ... He says he is the crowned head of the artistic world, as King George is of England.1

Subject and style

Reception

Photographic source

Ownership

Versions

Nicola Moorby
September 2005

Notes

1
Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, 7 April 1932, quoted in Martial Rose, Forever Juliet: the Life and Letters of Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, 1891–1992, Dereham 2003, p.59.
2
Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies recorded interview with Tate Gallery staff, 10 March 1989, Tate Archive TAV 564A.
3
‘Sickert’s High Steppers’, unpublished manuscript to accompany an exhibition, Tate Archive TGA 881/15, pp.7–8.
4
Wendy Baron, Sickert: Paintings and Drawings, New Haven and London 2006, no.708.
5
Twelve Paintings by Modern Artists, 24 Ryder Street, London, July 1932.
6
For example, Daily Sketch, 24 July 1932.
7
Tate Archive TAV 564A.
8
Wendy Baron, in Late Sickert: Paintings 1927–1942, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, London 1981, p.99.
9
Outlook, 24 November 1923, quoted in Rose 2003, p.34.
10
Ralph Wright, New Statesman, November 1923, quoted in Rose 2003, p.34.
11
Saturday Review, quoted in Rose 2003, p.34.
12
‘Walter Sickert’s Class: Method of Instruction’, Manchester Guardian, 31 October 1930.
13
Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, unpublished diary entry, 7 April 1932, photocopy in Tate Catalogue file.
14
Walter Sickert, transcription of letter to Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, 25 July 1932, Tate Archive.
15
R.R. Tatlock, ‘Sickert’s New Masterpiece’, Daily Telegraph, 6 September 1932.
16
Quoted in Rose 2003, p.61.
17
Tatlock, 6 September 1932.
18
‘A Portrait by Mr Sickert’, Times, 7 September 1932.
19
Quoted in Rose 2003, p.61.
20
Western Morning News, 7 September 1932.
21
‘A Portrait I Never Sat For – Miss Ffrangcon-Davies’, Manchester Evening News, 6 September 1932.
22
Ibid.
23
Reproduced in Sickert: Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy, London 1992, fig.215, p.310.
24
David Peters Corbett, Walter Sickert, London 2001, p.60.
25
William Rothenstein, Since Fifty: Men and Memories, 1922–1938, London 1939, p.276.
26
Ibid., p.16.
27
Quoted in Richard Shone, Sickert in the Tate, exhibition catalogue, Tate Liverpool 1989, p.13.
28
Richard Morphet, ‘The Modernity of Late Sickert’, Studio International, vol.190, July–August 1975, p.35.
29
Cicely Hey, Walter Sickert 1860–1942: Sketch for a Portrait, 10 February 1961, BBC Home Service, LP 26655, Side 1.
30
Walter Richard Sickert, ‘Engraving, Etching, Etc.’, Lecture at Margate School of Art, 23 November 1934, in Anna Gruetzner Robins (ed.), Walter Sickert: The Complete Writings on Art, Oxford 2000, p.661.
31
Rebecca Daniels, ‘Richard Sickert: The Art of Photography’, in Walter Sickert: ‘drawing is the thing’, exhibition catalogue, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester 2004, p.27.
32
Walter Richard Sickert, ‘Artists and the Camera’, Times, 15 August 1929, in Robins (ed.) 2000, p.591.
34
Walter Richard Sickert, ‘The Sculptor of Movement’, in Exhibition of the Works in Sculpture of Edgar Degas, Leicester Galleries, London 1923, in Robins (ed.) 2000, p.457.
35
Reproduced in David Bomford, Art in the Making: Degas, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery, London 2004, p.62.
36
Walter Sickert, ‘Squaring up a Drawing’, Lecture at Margate School of Art, 2 November 1934, in Robins (ed.) 2000, p.637.
37
R.E.A. Wilson, letter to James Bolivar Manson, 25 October 1932, Tate Acquisition file TG 4/2/956/1.
38
Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, letter to Walter Sickert, 16 December 1932, Walter Sickert press cuttings, Islington Public Libraries, London, 1915–41.
39
Reproduced in Baron 2006, no.745.
40
Reproduced ibid., no.754.
41
Ibid., no.754.1; see also Baron 1973, no.416, reproduced.
42
Daily Telegraph, 11 March 1989, Tate Catalogue file.
43
Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies recorded interview with Tate Gallery staff, 10 March 1989, Tate Archive TAV 564A.
44
Portrait of Miss Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies as Mary Queen of Scots 1934. Reproduced in Modern British and Irish Paintings and Drawings, Sotheby’s, London, 13 May 1932 (lot 36).
45
National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, NMW A 592, reproduced at http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/en/art/online/?action=show_item&item=1168, accessed March 2011.

Read full Catalogue entry

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