Walter Richard Sickert

The Seducer

c.1929–30

Artist
Walter Richard Sickert 1860–1942
Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 425 x 625 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1989
Reference
T05529

Not on display

Display caption

'The Seducer' is an example of Sickert's late work which he called 'echoes'. These were subject pictures and portraits based on and 'echoing' black and white 19th century prints and illustrations. Sickert's father had been an illustrator and the 'echoes' are replete with a sense of nostalgia for the Victorian era. This example is based on an original by Sir John Gilbert (1819-97) whose romantic and melodramatic narratives Sickert admired.

Gallery label, August 2004

Technique and condition

The commercially primed and stretched canvas was supplied by L. Cornelissen and Son, Artists' Colourmen. The sturdy flax canvas with its double warp and treble weft threads is sized and primed with a thin, white lead oil ground which retains the distinctive canvas texture. It is probably of Belgian manufacture. The canvas is stretched onto an expandable stretcher and the colourmen's stencil applied to the back of the canvas after being stretched.

Painted in artists' oil colours, the drawing and colouring are executed swiftly in fluid colours. The paint is often dragged across the tops of the canvas texture producing broken applications and in many areas the ground remains bare. The 'alla prima' painting has few corrections and overpaintings.

The painting is coated with a thin film of varnish and is in good condition. The gilded, moulded frame it was acquired in is probably not original. Glass was fitted to it on acquisition.

Roy Perry
1995

Catalogue entry

Entry

This picture is from the series Walter Sickert made in the late 1920s and early 1930s which he described as ‘Echoes’. They were mainly copied from Victorian illustrations which he found in old editions of the Illustrated London News and similar publications; he made in all around a hundred such works. Sickert took The Seducer from a design by Sir John Gilbert (1818–1897), which is acknowledged in the inscription. The published source for the design remains unidentified. Sickert made more Echoes after Gilbert than after anyone else. The artist William Rothenstein wrote of the Echoes:
Walter’s latest works are a witty commentary on the nineteenth century, on its charm and absurdities, on its art at once so enchanting and so blatant. His mind remains ever alert to see the possibility most artists neglect.1
When Sickert had an exhibition at the Savile Gallery in March 1930 that included eight Echoes, among them The Seducer, responses were mixed. His friend Ethel Sands reported that there were ‘one or two good ones but mostly things from old caricatures which are desperately silly’.2 Similarly, the Bloomsbury artist Vanessa Bell judged them ‘idiotic’ and claimed they fell ‘between so many stools they hardly exist’.3 But in Apollo, the critic T.W. Earp praised them as
brilliant ... their line, necessarily less cramped than that of the original models, flows beautifully. It has the ease and personality of a signature. The colour is pushed to its most excessive limit and [is] admirably harmonious.4
Sir Osbert Sitwell, who knew Sickert well, described the genesis of the Echoes, writing how the artist’s
long hours spent in staring at prints and engravings and old newspapers, were beginning to bear fruit. In 1927 he began to paint his grand series Echoes, as they were called. The first of them was taken from a scene on the lid of a mid-nineteenth-century pomade-box, and they were all of this kind, adaptions, transposed to a larger scale, of works by older artists. But, because of this, and because also Sickert had reverted to the ancient studio practice of having assistants helping to prepare the ground, and because, still more, of his ineradicable sense of humour, the virtues and importance of these works have been minimised and in some quarters dismissed. Nor was it entirely the fault of the critical that this was so, for Sickert could never restrain his wit. One day, for instance, in the thirties, my brother [Sacheverell] met him at the Leicester Galleries, where an exhibition of his later work of this kind was in progress. Sickert turned round, after looking at a picture, and remarked to my brother:
‘It’s such a good arrangement; Cruikshank and Gilbert do all the work, and I get all the money!’5

Robert Upstone
May 2009

Notes

1
William Rothenstein, Since Fifty: Men and Memories, 1922–1938, London 1939, p.276.
2
Ethel Sands, letter to Nan Hudson, 1930; quoted in Wendy Baron, Miss Ethel Sands and her Circle, London 1977, p.184.
3
Regina Marler (ed.), Selected Letters of Vanessa Bell, London 1993, p.364.
4
T.W. Earp, ‘Richard Sickert: English Echoes’, Apollo, 13 June 1931; quoted in Matthew Sturgis, Walter Sickert: A Life, London 2005, p.576.
5
Osbert Sitwell (ed.), A Free House! or the Artist as Craftsman being the Writings of Walter Richard Sickert, London 1947, p.liii.
6
Ibid., pp.351–2 n.149.
7
Wendy Baron, Sickert: Paintings and Drawings, New Haven and London 2006, no.57.22; reproduced in Sickert: Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy, London 1992, fig.211.
8
Walter Sickert, ‘The Sources’, in English Echoes. A Series of Paintings by Richard Sickert, A.R.A., exhibition catalogue, Savile Gallery, London 1931.
9
Baron 2006, no.610.
10
Quoted in Hayward Gallery 1981, p.102.
11
See Richard Calvocoressi, ‘The Art of Modern Times’, in Saved for Scotland: Works of Art Acquired with the Help of the National Art Collections Fund, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh 1991, pp.19–20.

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