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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’.

May 2007