Walter Richard Sickert
is painted in artists’ oil paints on a primed, stretched canvas prepared by the artists’ colourmen John B. Smith, who had premises on the Hampstead Road and was used by a number of Camden Town Group artists. The canvas is one piece of primed, plain-weave linen attached to a four-member pine stretcher with rusted, steel tacks in their original positions. The colourmen’s priming appears to consist of an animal glue sizing applied to the canvas with an off-white oil priming. The evenly applied priming covers all the cloth, retaining its texture. The painting technique from squaring-up to finishing demonstrates that Gosse was familiar with helping Walter Sickert with the preliminary stages of his painting. His use of a substantial ‘camaieu’ or dead-colouring in a restricted colour range (see, for example, Tate N05288
) is reflected in Gosse’s almost monochrome underpainting. Sickert describes the manner of developing this underpainting before applying the ‘last skin of colour’ in several of his letters to pupils:
[I] put on the canvas still always in camaïeu the bit I have just drawn & observed while it is fresh ... These blond shadows ... being nearly all white dry & dry the more you repaint them the better. Then when the whole thing is absolutely complete in light & shade & drawing you just slip the last skin of colour on. In that way also you guide the effect more surely in pure line & light & shade.1
The image has been transferred to the canvas from a photographic source using a system of squaring up. Drawing pins remain around the edges at intervals of two inches. They were used to string black cotton thread to form a grid across the face of the canvas. Remnants of this cotton remain around the pins and there are faint ridges in the paint from its presence during painting. Many details, such as Sickert’s features and his clothing, are realised in the development of the blue-green underpainting before application of the final colours. The last colouring is applied in a wide variety of dabbed, drawn and scumbled brushstrokes of opaque colours to create a vibrant, broken surface with shallow impastos. The near grille (grisaille) underpainting and occasionally the white of the priming remain visible in many areas. The darks of the underpainting enhance the luminosity of the shadows while the light tints and white priming give liveliness to the lit surfaces. Scumbles of paint appear to have been applied over touch-dry paint as with the last, warm grey wispy touches to the wall. A thin surface film was rubbed onto the paint surface, giving a slightly uneven gloss to the surface, which is dulled around the matte black signature at the bottom right.
How to cite
Roy Perry, 'Technique and Condition', November 2003, in Nicola Moorby, ‘Walter Richard Sickert 1923–5 by Sylvia Gosse’, catalogue entry, April 2003, in Helena Bonett, Ysanne Holt, Jennifer Mundy (eds.), The Camden Town Group in Context, Tate Research Publication, May 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/camden-town-group/sylvia-gosse-walter-richard-sickert-r1139018, accessed 20 March 2018.