The Camden Town Group in Context

Walter Richard Sickert Study for 'The Little Tea Party' 1915-6

This sketch, in black and white chalk on coarse grey-brown paper, is a preliminary study for the oil painting, The Little Tea Party: Nina Hamnett and Roald Kristian (Tate N05288). Kristian’s figure is rendered in the greatest detail, from his slackened posture to the shadowy folds of his clothing. His hastily rendered face is almost caricature, whereas Hamnett’s figure is headless. A table of tea things on the right is nominally outlined and the background is left entirely blank. Sickert often advised students: ‘Drawing is from the particular to the general; painting is from the general to the particular.’
Walter Richard Sickert 1860–1942
Study for ‘The Little Tea Party’
1915–16
Chalk on paper
228 x 357 mm
Purchased (Knapping Fund) 1945
N05619

Entry

Walter Richard Sickert 'The Little Tea Party: Nina Hamnett and Roald Kristian' 1915-16
Fig.1
Walter Richard Sickert
The Little Tea Party: Nina Hamnett and Roald Kristian 1915–16
© Tate
This drawing is a preliminary study for the painting, The Little Tea Party: Nina Hamnett and Roald Kristian 1915–16 (Tate N05288, fig.1). The focus is the seated pose of Edgar de Bergen, also known as Roald Kristian, recording the position of his arms and legs and the shadows made by the folds in his clothes. His face is sketched in a very cursory fashion, as is the headless figure of Nina Hamnett seated beside him on the chaise-longue. To the right there is the suggestion of a side table with a cup or mug on it. The background has been left completely blank.
Another sketch, The Little Tea Party c.1915–16 (Huddersfield Art Gallery),1 in pencil, pen and ink, is a fuller description of the compositional elements of the picture and the individual sitters. In that drawing, Sickert has overlaid an initial blue pencil layout with finer detail in pen and ink. The appearance of the sofa and the vertical stripes of the wallpaper are recorded, but the still-life objects on the table on the right are not described.
Other known studies related to the painting include a watercolour (private collection),2 and a pencil drawing on buff paper of Edgar de Bergen (private collection).3 The latter is inscribed ‘De Bergen’ and is a detailed transcription of the appearance of the sitter, particularly his face and arms. In the drawing, de Bergen looks directly at the artist or viewer whereas in the final painting he stares away into space, suggesting the same sense of isolation present in Ennui c.1914 (Tate N03846). There is no known corresponding sketch of Hamnett, perhaps because Sickert was more familiar with her and had sketched her on previous occasions.4 There is also a watercolour study (private collection)5 of a couple seated side by side on a couch that has a similar compositional format.
Unlike the series of drawings related to Ennui (Tate T00350), there is almost no discernible alteration in the poses of the sitters between the various related sketches. This suggests that they were all completed fairly quickly from one sitting. Tate’s drawing is possibly the first in the series since the figurative arrangement is the least successful. For example, the position of de Bergen’s head is not in correct alignment with the rest of his body and his left leg is too long. Hamnett’s figure is incomplete. From this attempt to capture the original basis of the idea, Sickert perhaps completed the other sketches that more carefully record the visual facts of the scene. In the Huddersfield drawing, de Bergen, evidently drawn from life while seated on the chaise-longue, was probably sketched first. The figure of his wife, however, has been added later to the other end of the sofa, overlaid on top of the existing sketch in pencil with the lines reinforced heavily in black ink. She has possibly been copied from another drawing. It is likely, therefore, that the Tate’s painting does not record an actual scene but is a compilation of two different occasions. This perhaps explains Hamnett’s recollection in her 1932 autobiography that she posed on an iron bedstead (see Tate N05288).6
Sickert’s usual practice was to work from a squared-up drawing and there is no evidence of this process on any of the extant works on paper. However, it was also his custom, at times, to cut up his drawings along the lines in order to transfer each square methodically, and, therefore, it may be supposed that some drawings were destroyed and lost.

Nicola Moorby
January 2005

Notes

1
Wendy Baron, Sickert: Paintings and Drawings, New Haven and London 2006, no.454.1; reproduced in Walter Sickert: ‘drawing is the thing’, exhibition catalogue, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester 2004 (4.24) and Sickert: Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy, London 1992, fig.176, p.256.
2
Baron 2006, no.454.3.
3
Baron 2006, no.454.4; reproduced in Royal Academy 1992, fig.177, p.256.
4
See, for example, the three-quarter-length nude study, Baron 2006, no.454.6.
5
Reproduced in Baron 2006, no.454.5.
6
Nina Hamnett, Laughing Torso: Reminiscences of Nina Hamnett, London 1932, pp.81–2.

How to cite

Nicola Moorby, ‘Study for ‘The Little Tea Party’ 1915–16 by Walter Richard Sickert’, catalogue entry, January 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-study-for-the-little-tea-party-r1139850, accessed 20 December 2014.