The Camden Town Group in Context

Walter Richard Sickert Mrs Anna Knight 1941-2

Walter Sickert’s usual habit of painting from drawings and photographs was abandoned for a series of studies from life in the Bath home of Mrs Anna Knight. A cupboard with glass doors and vase of flowers stand behind Knight, seated on a sofa in the foreground, her long black dress mingling into the mauve and deep blue tones of the carpet. Framed by a white pie-frill collar, the features of her face have been lightly sketched in, partly in charcoal or black oil crayon. A pale pink and light blue camaieu preparation is still visible across areas of the canvas, where dull beige tones have been used to articulate the interior ceiling and background walls. Sickert eventually became too ill to continue work on the portrait and died soon after in January 1942.
Walter Richard Sickert 1860–1942
Mrs Anna Knight
1941–2
Oil paint on canvas
1524 x 762 mm
Bequeathed by Mrs Anna Knight 1953
N06142

Entry

In 1938 Walter Sickert moved to St George’s Hill House, Bathampton, a small village on the outskirts of Bath where he continued to live with his third wife, Thérèse Lessore, until the end of his life. The artist was still producing work at this time but at an ever-decreasing rate, and many of his last paintings were of the house and garden, or scenes painted from photographs of the surrounding area. Despite being in his seventies he sought to play an active role in the life of Bath’s artistic community and frequently gave voluntary lectures to the students of the Bath Academy of Art (now Bath School of Art and Design). He also regularly sent works to be exhibited with the Bath Society of Artists, a group founded in 1904 as an outlet for the creative activity of professional and amateur artists working in the area. The principal of the Bath Academy of Art, Clifford Ellis, introduced Sickert to Charles Neil Knight (1865–1947), an artist and governor of the school. Knight was also the honorary secretary of the Bath Society of Artists. In 1941 he commissioned Sickert to paint a portrait of his wife, Anna, possibly as a way of alleviating Sickert’s straitened financial circumstances, which the war had made increasingly precarious. Ellis recalled that, contrary to Sickert’s lifetime habit of painting from drawings or photographs, the portrait was actually studied from life, the sittings occurring in Anna Knight’s home in Bath. The art historian Wendy Baron has commented that this explains its striking dissimilarity from the artist’s other late paintings.1 Work on the portrait progressed slowly through the year but was interrupted in the autumn when Sickert suffered a series of minor strokes. He eventually became too ill to work and the portrait remained unfinished at his death in January 1942.
The painter Eardley Knollys (1902–1991) recalled in a letter to the Tate Gallery that Anna Knight was very fond and proud of her portrait, despite its unfinished state.2 The painting shows the subject seated on a sofa in a domestic interior. In the background it is possible to make out a cupboard with glass doors, a vase of flowers on a sideboard and a door beyond. Knight is wearing a black dress with a white pie-frill collar, but it is almost impossible to make out the distinguishing features of her physiognomy. As a work in progress, however, the painting is an interesting example of the artist’s late painting technique. The composition has been roughly sketched out with a loose underdrawing over which the paint has been applied in dry patches, dragged across the canvas so that the grain of the support is still visible. The limited colour range of grey/brown or ochre, and tonal variations of blue is lifted by the addition of a small amount of red for the floor, and given structure by a heavy black linear element. Some areas, such as the arm of the sofa, have been painted with thick impasto giving the surface a very textural quality. There appear to be drawn grid lines reminiscent of squaring-up underneath the painted layers. There would have been no practical necessity for this since the portrait was studied from life, but Sickert liked the look of the canvas structured by lines and may have introduced them as a means of maintaining proportion. Increasingly in his final years Sickert relied on the technical assistance of Sylvia Gosse and Thérèse Lessore when painting pictures, and it is very possible that his wife may have contributed to some of the work on Mrs Anna Knight.

Nicola Moorby
December 2005

Notes

1
Wendy Baron, Sickert: Paintings and Drawings, New Haven and London 2006, p.543.
2
Eardley Knollys, letter to Mary Chamot, Tate Gallery, 29 April 1953, Tate Catalogue file.

How to cite

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 26 July 2014.