Walter Sickert started with a coarse canvas pre-primed with an even, white ground, which extends to the cut edges and is stretched on a plain six-membered stretcher with two horizontal cross-members. The support was supplied by Winsor & Newton and provided a rough-textured preparatory surface on which to paint.
The portrait was apparently painted entirely from life and indeed there is no evidence of any preparatory drawing or of squaring-up at any stage of the painting (see Tate T00221
). The artist started by applying a thin wash of pale blue paint to sketch in the main forms, with a light pink for the background and under the head, consistent with a camaieu preparation. The preparation and original white ground remain clearly visible in many areas. He then worked over the sketch in patches of paint to record his visual impressions of the scene. Black is used to form the dress of the figure, with beige brushed in dry scumbles over the blue background to explore the space and light behind the head where patches of discontinuous colour have been used to modify flat areas of walls and other surfaces. Paler ochre/beige and browns are added for strengthening of details, and pale green is applied relatively thinly but with some evidence of brushworking, with blue for the floor and reddish, mauve passages. In a few places charcoal or black oil crayon was added on top of the paint to delineate forms and define the details, such as the sitter’s eyes. In parts, dabs of thick paint define the edges of the forms, but the paint was not spread out and worked into the rest of the painting. The paint was relatively dry and sits on the tops of the canvas weave, emphasising the coarse weave. Sickert worked systematically and with deliberation, but the result is unresolved as he abandoned painting due to ill health.
The partial completeness of this work allows an insight into Sickert’s technique, since some of the earlier stages are still exposed. The lightness and strong colour of the camaieu remains evident, but perhaps the most notable characteristic is Sickert’s process of responding to impressions of light and space in the room by using thin patches of contrasting but subdued colour over the camaieu, which are retained particularly in the background. The presumed next overall skin of low-toned paint to introduce detail is mostly missing. This may be because he was working from life or simply because he altered his practice in this very late work.
How to cite
Stephen Hackney, 'Technique and Condition', May 2005, in Nicola Moorby, ‘Mrs Anna Knight 1941–2 by Walter Richard Sickert’, catalogue entry, December 2005, in Helena Bonett, Ysanne Holt, Jennifer Mundy (eds.), The Camden Town Group in Context, May 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/camden-town-group/walter-richard-sickert-mrs-anna-knight-r1136826, accessed 28 May 2015.