Walter Richard Sickert

The New Bedford

c.1914–5

Artist
Walter Richard Sickert 1860–1942
Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 914 x 356 mm
frame: 1105 x 545 x 62 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Bequeathed by Sir Edward Marsh through the Contemporary Art Society 1953
Reference
N06174

Not on display

Display caption

In his youth Sickert had acted on the stage and he often depicted London music halls and their audiences. This theatre in Camden Town, near Sickert’s home in Mornington Crescent, was destroyed by fire in 1896 and subsequently rebuilt as the ‘New Bedford’. Sickert emphasises the splendour and the towering perspective of the grand Edwardian architecture which dwarfs the audience.

By the 1860s there were over 200 small music halls in London which catered mainly for working class audiences. Sickert was one of the first artists who attempted to record their distinctive atmosphere.

Gallery label, September 2004

Catalogue entry

Entry

Background

Sickert exhibited his first music hall painting, Le Lion comique (private collection),1 in 1887. Nearly thirty years later, he was still finding inspiration in London’s palaces of entertainment and in particular from his old haunt, the Bedford music hall in Camden Town. Around 1914 he was commissioned by his friend Ethel Sands to paint a series of pictures to adorn the dining room of her new house in Vale Avenue, Chelsea. Sickert declared himself ‘allumé’ (enlightened, illuminated) by the New Bedford and envisaged a set of large decorative panels depicting the interior of the music hall.2 Begun just before the outbreak of the First World War, his work on the paintings was sporadic and he was still faithlessly promising to bring the scheme to completion over four years later. Sands never received her dining room pictures, but a series of drawings, studies, paintings and etchings testify to Sickert’s intentions. It is with this body of work, and a group of earlier images, that Tate’s painting, The New Bedford, should be related.
The painting depicts a narrow, vertical, stalls to ceiling view of a section of the auditorium to the right of the stage crowded with the audience during a performance. The main focus of the work is a large private box, plushly decorated with red velvet hangings and gilt ornamentation, flanked on either side by two huge female caryatids. Three people, one of whom is a woman wearing a large hat, are seated in the box, high above other members of the audience massed in the circle below. A flight of stairs can be seen connecting the two levels. At the right of the painting there is a partial view of the adjacent smaller box and high above it the railings of the gallery at the top. A drawing in pencil inscribed ‘The Conductor – New Bedford’ c.1908 (private collection)3 confirms that the view shows the area immediately adjacent to the right of the stage and the orchestra pit.

The New Bedford

In previous accounts of Sickert’s music hall paintings it has been believed that the ‘Old’ Bedford music hall, built in 1861 on the site of a tavern and tea garden off Camden High Street, was burnt to the ground in 1896. It is not known where this myth originated, but recent research has revealed that no mention of a fire is to be found in council records or in local newspaper reports.4 Instead, it appears that the hall was pulled down in July 1898 for the purposes of expansion and redevelopment by the new proprietors, Benjamin Lucas and Ted Johnson.5 The building work was speedily completed within six months and the ‘New Bedford Palace of Varieties’ reopened on 6 February 1899.6

Sickert and the Bedford

Date

Dining room

Ownership

Nicola Moorby
May 2004

Notes

1
Reproduced in Sickert: Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy, London 1992 (3).
2
Walter Sickert, letter to Ethel Sands, not dated [1914], Tate Archive TGA 9125/5, no.59.
3
Wendy Baron, Sickert: Paintings and Drawings, New Haven and London 2006, no.298.5; reproduced in Anna Gruetzner Robins, Walter Sickert: Drawings, Aldershot and Vermont 1996, fig.26.
4
Marian Kamlish, ‘The Rise and Fall of Sickert’s Dear Old Bedford’, Camden History Review, vol.19, 1995, p.33.
5
Ibid.
6
Ibid.
7
Camden and Kentish Town’s and St Pancras Gazette, 1 February 1899; quoted in Jean Aster, ‘History of the New Bedford Theatre, Camden Town: A Case Study of the Working Class “Recreational Revolution” during the Edwardian Era and beyond’, unpublished PhD thesis, University of London, May 1999, pp.15–16.
8
Ibid., p.16.
9
Ibid., p.15.
10
Ibid., p.16.
11
Another photograph is reproduced in Royal Academy 1992, fig.172, p.248.
12
Walter Sickert, letter to Mrs Hugh Hammersley; quoted in Wendy Baron, ‘Dating Sickert’s Paintings of the New Bedford, Camden Town’, Burlington Magazine, vol.146, no.1214, May 2004, p.327.
13
Reproduced in Baron 2006, no.48 and Royal Academy 1992 (8).
14
Reproduced in Baron 2006, no.55 and Royal Academy 1992 (13).
15
Reproduced in Baron 2006, no.97 and Royal Academy 1992 (16).
16
Quoted in Baron 2004, p.327.
17
Baron 2006, no.297; reproduced in Mireille Galinou and John Hayes, London in Paint: Oil Paintings in the Collection at the Museum of London, London 1996, p.385.
18
See Baron 2006, nos.298, 469–71 and 474; Ruth Bromberg, Walter Sickert Prints: A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London 2000, nos.160–1.
19
Baron 2006, nos.298.3–16, 469.1, 470.1–6, 471.1–6 and 474.1–5.
20
Robins 1996, p.23.
21
Reproductions in Tate Catalogue file.
22
Walter Sickert, letter to Ethel Sands, not dated [1914/1915], Tate Archive TGA 9125/5, no.86.
23
Wendy Baron, ‘Dating Sickert’s Paintings of the New Bedford, Camden Town’, Burlington Magazine, vol.146, no.1214, May 2004.
24
Ibid., p.327.
25
Reproduced ibid. fig.46 and Baron 2006, no.298.
26
Reproduced Baron 2006, no.298.1.
27
Reproduced in New Age, 29 June 1911, p.204.
28
Baron 2006, no.298.10; reproduced in Baron 2004, fig.49.
29
Baron 2006, no.469; reproduced in Royal Academy 1992, fig.173.
30
Baron 2006, no.471; reproduced in Baron 2004, fig.56.
31
Walter Sickert, letter to Nan Hudson, not dated, Tate Archive TGA 9125/5, no.12A.
32
Royal Academy 1992, p.250.
33
Walter Sickert, letter to Nan Hudson, not dated [1914–15], Tate Archive TGA 9125/5, no.142.
34
Baron 2006, no.474; reproduced in Baron 2004, fig.57.
35
Bromberg 2000, pp.185–6, reproduced nos.160 and 161.
36
Walter Sickert, letter to Ethel Sands, not dated [January 1915], Tate Archive TGA 9125/5, no.85.
37
Walter Sickert, letter to Ethel Sands, not dated [1914/1915], Tate Archive TGA 9125/5, no.86.
38
Walter Sickert, letter to Ethel Sands, not dated [?late 1914/1915], Tate Archive TGA 9125/5, no.83.
39
Edouard Vuillard, exhibition catalogue, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, National Gallery of Art, Washington and Royal Academy, London 2002, p.164.
40
Walter Sickert, letter to Ethel Sands, not dated [January 1915], Tate Archive TGA 9125/5, no.85.
41
Reproduced in Baron 2006, no.97 and Royal Academy 1992 (16).
42
Anna Gruetzner Robins, ‘Sickert “Painter-in-Ordinary” to the Music-Hall’, in Royal Academy 1992, p.17.
43
Ibid.
44
Edward Marsh, A Number of People: A Book of Reminiscences, London 1939, p.364.
45
Christopher Hassall, Edward Marsh, Patron of the Arts: A Biography, London 1959, p.645.
46
Marsh 1939, pp.8–9.
47
Marsh 1939, p.355.
48
Hassall 1959, p.41.
49
Marsh 1939, p.55.

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