Walter Richard Sickert

Woman Washing her Hair

1906

Artist
Walter Richard Sickert 1860–1942
Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 457 x 381 mm
frame: 622 x 548 x 75 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Bequeathed by Lady Henry Cavendish-Bentinck 1940
Reference
N05091

Not on display

Display caption

Sickert was committed to painting everyday life, and here he shows the woman in circumstances in which she might naturally be naked. This sets her apart from the artistic tradition of female nudes, which were conventionally shown inactive and with little context.Sickert learnt much from the French artist Edgar Degas, including such ‘through the key hole’ views. In this way the woman is shown as if we have glimpsed her without her knowing we are there.This is one of a series of nudes Sickert painted in his studio in Paris in autumn 1906.

Gallery label, May 2007

Catalogue entry

Entry

In October 1906 Walter Sickert exhibited ten pictures at the Salon d’Automne in Paris, and arrived in the capital from Dieppe in order to attend the opening. He took a room at the Hôtel du Quai Voltaire, on the Left Bank of the Seine directly opposite the Louvre, which he described as ‘my enchanting hotel a few doors off the house where Ingres died’, where apparently the ‘alcove of the beds in some of the rooms are beautifully lit’.1 Much favoured by artists and writers during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, previous patrons of the hotel included Richard Wagner, Charles Baudelaire and Camille Pissarro, who had painted a number of views from a window on the third floor during 1903.2 Sickert himself had first stayed there in 1883, in the company of Oscar Wilde (who later died there in 1900). The purpose of that visit had been to deliver Whistler’s iconic portrait of his mother to the Salon, but the trip also marked the occasion of Sickert’s first meeting with Edgar Degas, the French painter who was to have such a profound influence on the direction of his art. Possibly stimulated by memories of that significant moment in his career, or simply enthralled by the artistic ferment of Parisian life, during his visit in 1906 Sickert opted to stay in the hotel for some weeks, during which time he used the room as a studio and produced a large number of paintings and drawings. He wrote to his friend, the painter William Rothenstein, that he was ‘doing a whole set of interiors in the hotel, mostly nudes’, as well as some theatrical subjects.3 This burst of creativity led to a successful solo exhibition at the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery in January 1907. Woman Washing her Hair dates from this period. Painted in the Hôtel du Quai Voltaire, it was exhibited at Bernheim-Jeune under the title, La Toilette, and later acquired by the gallery in 1910.4
The young, slim model for Woman Washing her Hair was a French girl named Blanche whom Sickert later described as ‘most enchanting ... the thinnest of the thin like a little eel, exquisitely shaped, with red hair’.5 He recalled that:

Nicola Moorby
July 2009

Notes

1
Walter Sickert, letter to Nan Hudson, [1908], Tate Archive TGA 9125/5, no.36.
2
See Camille Pissarro, Le Quai Malaquais et l’Institut 1903, in Impressionist / Modern Evening Sale, Christie’s, London, 23 June 2009 (lot 7, reproduced).
3
Walter Sickert, letter to William Rothenstein, 1906; quoted in Wendy Baron and Richard Shone (eds.), Sickert: Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy, London 1992, p.184.
4
24 December 1910, stock number 18500, Wendy Baron, Sickert: Paintings and Drawings, New Haven and London 2006, pp.[63] and 324.
5
Walter Sickert, letter to Nan Hudson, [1908], Tate Archive TGA 9125/5, no.36.
6
Ibid.
7
Reproduced in Baron 2006, no.272.1.
8
Reproduced ibid., no.272.2.
9
Ibid., no.272.3.
10
Ibid., nos.273–4.
11
Ibid., nos.275–7.
12
See, for example, Alison Smith (ed.), Exposed: The Victorian Nude, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2001, no.165, p.256 and Robert Upstone (ed.), Modern Painters: The Camden Town Group, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2008, no.56, p.120.
13
See, for example, Wendy Baron, ‘Sickert’s Links with French Painting’, Apollo, vol.91, March 1970, p.195, Penelope Curtis, Richard Shone et al., W.R. Sickert: Drawings and Paintings 1890–1942, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, Liverpool 1989, no.5, p.19, Smith (ed.) 2001, no.165, p.256, and Barnaby Wright (ed.), Walter Sickert: The Camden Town Nudes, exhibition catalogue, Courtauld Gallery, London 2007, p.36.
14
Baron 2006, [p.63]; see also Wendy Baron, Sickert, London 1973, p.93. Bonnard’s painting was reproduced in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts, vol.36, 1906, p.475.
15
Anna Gruetzner Robins and Richard Thomson, Degas, Sickert and Toulouse Lautrec: London and Paris 1870–1910, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2005, pp.164–6.
17
Walter Sickert, ‘On the Conduct of a Talent’, New Age, 11 June 1914, p.131, in Anna Gruetzner Robins (ed.), Walter Sickert: The Complete Writings on Art, Oxford 2000, p.377.
18
Walter Sickert, ‘The naked and the Nude’, New Age, 21 July 1910, p.277, in Robins (ed.) 2000, p.262.

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