Walter Richard Sickert

Two Women on a Sofa - Le Tose

c.1903–4

Artist
Walter Richard Sickert 1860–1942
Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 457 x 533 mm
frame: 652 x 729 x 60 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Bequeathed by Sir Hugh Walpole 1941
Reference
N05296

Not on display

Display caption

In Venice in 1902-3, Sickert experimented with setting figures in natural poses in everyday surroundings. This picture’s subtitle, ‘Le Tose’, is taken from Venetian dialect and means ‘the girls’. Its constrained, planar composition forces attention onto the figures, although their faces are blurred and impossible to read, creating a sense of ambiguity. We can only look to the pose and set of their bodies to read meaning. Each figure looks back at the painter, one is bored, the other more relaxed. The pair are evidently on close terms as they sit near to one another. Sickert’s models were the prostitutes Carolina dell’Acqua and ‘La Giuseppina’.

Gallery label, May 2007

Catalogue entry

Entry

Walter Sickert painted this work during his visit to Venice in 1903–4; the title ‘Le Tose’ is Venetian slang for ‘the girls’. As in A Marengo (Tate N03621, fig.1), the sitters are the prostitutes Carolina dell’Acqua and La Giuseppina. They sit on the Empire style sofa that Sickert had in his painting room on the top floor of 940 Calle dei Frati. The constrained, planar composition forces attention onto the figures, although their faces are blurred and impossible to read, creating a sense of ambiguity. We can only look to the pose and set of their bodies to read meaning – they are evidently looking back at the painter, the figure on the left looking bored as she rests her head on her hand, the two women obviously on familiar terms as they sit together closely. The figure on the right is relaxed, her feet tucked up under her.
As the art historian David Peters Corbett has noted, there are affinities with Edgar Degas’s pictures of resting prostitutes, such as Waiting c.1876–7 (Musée Picasso, Paris).1 However, whereas in pictures by Degas and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec there is no question of the women’s occupation or the setting as a brothel, Sickert’s are less explicit,2 inviting the viewer to speculate on the significance of the scene. While this level of innocent reading is possible with Le Tose, it is more difficult to sustain in other pictures in the series, especially those such as Conversations 1903–4 (private collection)3 or Giuseppina and the Model 1903–4 (private collection),4 which combine a clothed figure with a naked one on a bed. Le Tose is the only picture in the series which shows the two women sitting together on a sofa.
In an account to his friend Jacques-Émile Blanche, Sickert stated that in this series of works he painted the figures directly, getting the models to hold their pose for an hour (see Tate N03621). However, he evidently also relied on drawings, as there is an upright pen and ink sketch of Le Tose’s left-hand figure inscribed ‘Sickert – Venezia’, which belonged to the Mayor Gallery in 1958.5 The art historian Wendy Baron also notes of Le Tose that ‘A spurious copy of this painting, known as The Two Sisters, has been in circulation’.6

Robert Upstone
May 2009

Notes

1
Reproduced in David Peters Corbett, Walter Sickert, London 2001, pl.11.
2
See ibid., p.20.
3
Reproduced in Wendy Baron, Sickert: Paintings and Drawings, New Haven and London 2006, no.217 and Sickert: Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy, London 1992 (41).
4
Reproduced in Baron 2006, no.217.1.
5
See Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, Tate Gallery Catalogues: The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, vol.2, London 1964, p.634.
6
Baron 2006, no.217.
7
Art Journal, 1886, p.97.
8
Alastair Grieve, Whistler’s Venice, New Haven and London 2000, p.186.
9
Henry Perl, Venezia, London 1894, p.77; quoted in Grieve 2000, p.186.
10
Grieve 2000, pp.185–6.
11
Reproduced in Baron 2006, no.689.

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