Walter Richard Sickert

The Little Tea Party: Nina Hamnett and Roald Kristian

1915–6

Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 254 x 356 mm
frame: 421 x 513 x 88 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1941
Reference
N05288

Catalogue entry

Entry

The Little Tea Party is one of the last in a series of two figure interiors that had dominated Walter Sickert’s output from around 1910–15. Unlike the majority of his works from this period, the picture showcases the drama and tension of a real, rather than an imagined relationship, representing a portrait of the unusual association between the artist, Nina Hamnett (1890–1956), and her husband, Roald Kristian (born 1893).
Hamnett is now best remembered as the ‘Queen’ of bohemian London. During the 1930s and 1940s she was a well-known character in the pubs and bars of Fitzrovia, regaling fellow bohemians with stories and anecdotes in exchange for a drink. In 1932 she published reminiscences and anecdotes about her unusual life in an autobiography, Laughing Torso. The book caused a sensation and led to an action for libel being brought against her by Aleister Crowley, whom Hamnett claimed practised black magic. During the early twentieth century, however, Hamnett was a promising young artist, exhibiting her work with the Allied Artists’ Association, the New English Art Club and the London Group. Between 1917 and 1920 she taught classes at the Westminster School of Art on the recommendation of Sickert and Augustus John. Her talent, sociable nature and striking appearance made her a popular figure in avant-garde artistic society and brought her to the attention of some of the most significant artists of the day. Although her own work is now largely forgotten, she remains immortalised as the model for works by Roger Fry and Sickert. The title of her autobiography derived from a marble sculpture of her, Torso 1914, by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (1891–1915).
Hamnett’s friendship with Sickert dated from 1911 when she regularly frequented the Saturday afternoon ‘At Homes’ in Fitzroy Street, a habit which persisted until after the First World War. Sickert enjoyed her company, although his wife Christine found her boisterous spirits at parties rather wearing.1 Sickert’s letters to Hamnett are written in an avuncular tone and contain warnings against squandering her energy on parties instead of painting. He did, however, hold a high opinion of her work, writing in the Cambridge Magazine in 1918:

Nicola Moorby
January 2005

Notes

1
Marjorie Lilly, Sickert: The Painter and his Circle, New Jersey 1973, p.110.
2
Walter Sickert, ‘Nina Hamnett, Cambridge Magazine, 8 June 1918, in Anna Gruetzner Robins (ed.), Walter Sickert: The Complete Writings on Art, Oxford and New York 2000, p.424.
3
Ibid., p.426.
4
Quoted in Denys Sutton, Walter Sickert, London 1976, p.190.
5
Reproduced in The Painters of Camden Town 1905–1920, exhibition catalogue, Christie’s, London 1988 (13).
6
Sutton 1976, p.145.
7
Nina Hamnett c.1916, pen and ink and pencil (private collection); Wendy Baron, Sickert: Paintings and Drawings, New Haven and London 2006, no.454.6; reproduced in Denise Hooker, Nina Hamnett: Queen of Bohemia, London 1986, p.105.
8
Lilly 1973, p.89.
9
Nina Hamnett, Laughing Torso: Reminiscences of Nina Hamnett, London 1932, pp.70–80.
10
Ibid., p.83.
11
Hooker 1986, p.100.
12
Hamnett 1932, pp.81–2.
13
Walter Sickert, ‘A Well-Bred Artist’, in Nina Hamnett: A Catalogue of Paintings and Drawings, Eldar Gallery, London 1918, in Robins (ed.) 2000, p.423.
14
Baron 2006, no.454.1; reproduced in Walter Sickert: ‘drawing is the thing’, exhibition catalogue, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester 2004 (4.24).
15
Reproduced ibid. (5.17).

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