The Latin part of this work’s title is the motto of the city state of Venice: ‘Peace be unto you, Mark my Evangelist.’ Mark is the city’s patron saint, and his emblem of a winged lion guarding his Gospel is represented in Venice’s coat of arms. The remains of St Mark were stolen by Venetian merchants from Alexandria in 828, but were lost in 976 after a fire destroyed the original basilica that had been built to house them. His body was miraculously rediscovered in 1094, the year the new Basilica of St Mark’s was consecrated.1
Sickert visited Venice for the first time in October 1894 with his wife Ellen, and they returned there the following autumn, staying in a flat overlooking the Zattere that belonged to a friend of her family. Sickert wrote to his friend Philip Wilson Steer:
Venice is really first-rate for work ... and I am getting some things done. It is mostly sunny and warmish and on cold days I do interiors in St Mark’s ... St Mark’s is engrossing and the Ducal Palace and 2 or 3 Renaissance gems, the Miracoli and S. Zaccharia and the Scuola di San Marco. Of course one gets familiar with Tintoretto and Titian and Veronese ... The more one sees of them ... the more preposterous is the pessimistic contention that we who live now should not paint. We aim at and achieve totally different results, results that they neither dreamt of nor could compass. A fine Whistler or Degas or Monet could hang with any of them. It would be intrinsically every bit as good, and for us have the added sparkle and charm of novelty. 2
On his visit to Venice in 1895–6 Sickert’s choice of picture subjects was quite conventional, being explorations of well-trodden tourist locations. Since its publication between 1851 and 1853, Ruskin’s Stones of Venice had become enormously popular and helped build a passion for all things Venetian in Britain over successive decades. A tangible record of this enthusiasm, which remains today, was the widespread imitation of Venetian Gothic architecture in London and other cities, evident in rows of terraced houses and corner pubs. By the time Sickert arrived in Venice, pictures of ‘la Serenissima’ were a popular and profitable component of the annual Royal Academy exhibition and the Paris Salon. Pictures of the city had, of course, been bought intermittently by British collectors since the time of Canaletto and Francesco Guardi, but a renewed enthusiasm peaked in the 1880s and 1890s. At this time large numbers of artists from many countries went to work in Venice to portray its picturesque canals and, most commonly, sentimental genre scenes of the inhabitants. The leading continental exponents of this type of picture were two Austrian painters, Cecil van Haanen (1844–1914) and Eugene von Blaas (1843–1932), whose style and choice of subject exerted a strong influence on the work of British painters such as Henry Woods (1846–1921). By 1886 the Art Journal was able to identify a ‘modern Venetian school’ whose foremost members were Woods, Luke Fildes (1844–1927) and William Logsdail (1859–1944), noting that:
Inspiration and related works
Edward Muir, Civic Ritual in Renaissance Venice, Princeton, New Jersey 1981, pp.86–7.
Walter Sickert, letter to Philip Wilson Steer; quoted in Robert Emmons, The Life and Opinions of Walter Richard Sickert, London 1992, pp.107–8.
Art Journal, 1886, p.97.
Reproduced in Alastair Grieve, Whistler’s Venice, New Haven and London 2000, fig.223.
Still smarting from losing his libel case against Ruskin, Whistler is said to have pinned a note to the back of Ruskin’s disciple Bunney, which read: ‘I am totally blind.’ See ibid., p.172.
Alfred Thornton, ‘Walter Richard Sickert’, Artwork, Spring 1930, p.15; quoted in Matthew Sturgis, Walter Sickert: A Life, London 2005, p.232.
Wendy Baron in Sickert: Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy, London 1992 (21).
Sickert refers to ‘photographs of Venice’ in a letter to Mrs Humphrey in 1899, see ibid.
Wendy Baron, Sickert: Paintings and Drawings, New Haven and London 2006, no.99.2; reproduced in Sickert in Venice, exhibition catalogue, Dulwich Picture Gallery, London 2009 (2).
Wendy Baron, Sickert, London 1973, no.100.
Walter Sickert, letter to Philip Wilson Steer; quoted in Emmons 1992, p.108.
Reproduced in Baron 2006, no.102.8 and Modern British Art, Christie’s, London, 21 March 1996 (117).
Reproduced in Baron 2006, no.101 and Modern British and Irish Paintings and Drawings, Sotheby’s, London, 19 June 1996 (18).
Baron 2006, no.102.9; reproduced in Modern British and Irish Paintings and Drawings, Sotheby’s, London, 19 June 1996 (19).
Reproduced in Baron 2006, no.99.
Reproduced ibid., no.102.6. and Royal Academy 1992 (23).
Reproduced in Baron 2006, no.102.
Baron 2006, no.102.4; reproduced in Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, Sotheby’s, London, 13 May 1987 (90).
39½ x 59½ inches; Baron 2006, no.102.3.
Ruth Bromberg, Walter Sickert Prints: A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London 2000, no.122.
Quoted in Baron 2006, no.102.
See Royal Academy 1992 (21).
Sturgis 2005, p.331.
Quoted ibid., p.332.
For an account of her life, see Celia Lee, Jean Hamilton 1861–1941: A Soldier’s Wife, London 2001.
Diary of Jean, Lady Hamilton, Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives, King’s College, London (20/1/1).
Sturgis 2005, p.335.