The Camden Town Group in Context

Walter Richard Sickert The Front at Hove (Turpe Senex Miles Turpe Senilis Amor) 1930

This view looks towards Adelaide Crescent, a Regency townhouse development in the Brunswick area of Hove in Sussex. The residences were in decline from once-fashionable grandeur when the aging Walter Sickert encountered them, and as such resonate with the male figure seated on the bench chatting in earnest with the woman in red hat to his right. Containing an element perhaps of self-mockery, the painting’s Latin subtitle is a quotation taken from Ovid, ‘An old soldier is a wretched thing, so also is senile love’.
Walter Richard Sickert 1860–1942
The Front at Hove (Turpe Senex Miles Turpe Senilis Amor)
1930
Oil paint on canvas
635 x 762 mm
Inscribed by the artist ‘Sickert.30.’ in black paint bottom left
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1932
N04651

Entry

In 1930 one newspaper reported ‘Sickert’s latest’:
Among those enjoying the benefit of this marvellous autumn at Brighton is Walter Sickert ... Sickert is in his seventieth year, but only yesterday I saw a beautiful picture he has painted, in his characteristic witty manner, of a couple sitting on a seat on the promenade.1
This painting, The Front at Hove (Turpe Senex Miles Turpe Senilis Amor), was the first landscape by Sickert to depict this part of the country since Brighton Pierrots (Tate T07041) fifteen years earlier. According to his friend and pupil Henry Rayner, it was painted from ‘old notes of the Brighton stay in 1926’.2
Forming personal connections with places was important to Sickert and integral to his success when painting landscapes. Certain territories enjoyed his favour at different moments throughout his lifetime: Dieppe and Envermeu, Venice, Camden Town and Islington, Bath and Bathampton, Chagford in Devon, and Thanet and Broadstairs in Kent. In 1926, shortly after marrying his third wife, Thérèse Lessore, he revisited one of his favoured haunts from previous years, spending the summer in Brighton.3 This sojourn by the seaside seems to have suited him so well that the following year he decided to return to find more permanent lodgings there. Sickert enjoyed the baths at Brighton and there were many old friends living nearby or visiting for a holiday themselves. London was accessible enough to make frequent journeys back to town if necessary. In May 1927 he took a studio in the Kemp Town area.4 He seems to have returned intermittently to Brighton over the next four years, only giving up the studio in 1931. It was probably during one of these trips that he painted The Front at Hove, a view looking towards the Regency townhouse development of Adelaide Crescent in the Brunswick area of Hove.
The painting shows the view standing on the promenade looking from the sea towards the Crescent. In the early nineteenth century Hove had been a fashionable area for wealthy holidaymakers who liked to stroll on the lawns along the front of Brunswick Terrace. Adelaide Crescent, named after Queen Adelaide who enjoyed visiting Brighton with her husband William IV, was built in 1830–4. The houses were large and particularly desirable since the curve of the façade of the Crescent afforded each property a view of the sea. In 1834 work on the development ground to a halt, however, after only ten houses had been built, possibly because Queen Victoria did not share her predecessors’ enthusiasm for the pleasures of Brighton and so the resort lost some of its fashionable appeal. Adelaide Crescent was not finally completed until the 1840s when the coming of the railway brought renewed investment to the area. In the 1930s, however, the area had somewhat lost its genteel associations and parts of it had fallen into a state of disrepair. Various plans for the redevelopment of the Crescent had been put forward and the dilapidated remnants of the earlier bygone era were in danger of vanishing forever.5 Such shabby grandeur no doubt appealed to Sickert who tended to be drawn to areas of former glory and declining fortune.
This sense of lost vitality is echoed within the theme of the painting, expressed by the group of figures seated on the bench in the left-hand foreground. On the right sits an elderly, bearded man in a brown suit and a bowler hat. Viewers familiar with Sickert’s appearance at this time would have recognised the element of self-portraiture in the figure. He sits with his legs crossed and his right arm resting on the back of the bench, facing towards a woman seated on the other half of the bench. She is muffled up in a dark brown coat and a red hat looking askance at the old man from under the brim of her hat. The dynamics of the interaction between these two figures is entirely expressed through their body language. The man leans in towards the woman. His deceptively casual pose belies what appears to be the predatory nature of his intentions and suggests the practised ease of an accomplished Lothario. She, by contrast, holds herself protectively and slightly draws away while looking warily aside at him making it clear that his advances are unwelcome. The pictorial space between these two is occupied by a third figure, a man in a top hat and coat. He sits on the other side of the bench with his back to the viewer, completely oblivious to the exchange taking place behind him. Sickert made the interpretation of the episode explicit by appending a Latin quotation taken from Ovid’s Amores to the painting’s title: ‘Turpe senex miles turpe senilis amor’ (An old soldier is a wretched thing, so also is senile love).6 As someone who had always been flirtatious and something of a success with women, Sickert is making a witty but self-mocking comment on the experience of growing old. He himself had remarried in 1926 to the painter Thérèse Lessore who may have been the female model for the picture.7 The faded elegance of the architecture occupying the right-hand side of the painting is a fitting counterpoint to the slightly pathetic sight of the elderly flatterer to the left. Both are now past their prime.
The style of The Front at Hove is characteristic of Sickert’s painting at this time in the use of an underpainted ground mapping out the tonal contrasts of the scene. Since about 1915 Sickert had advocated preparing a canvas with a suitable colour mixed with white in varying degrees of depth. The composition of the picture was then blocked in with the lowest tones and areas of shadow completed first, then the half tones, and finally the lights. These tones were relative to one another within a narrow range and, according to Sickert, ‘the picture at this stage should present the same appearance as if one were looking at a landscape in a mist’.8 When the ground was completely dry any additional, local colouring was then added. The chosen ground for The Front at Hove consists of two colours: a light blue used in conjunction with some pink. The art historian Richard Shone has noted that this was a favourite combination apparent in a number of other paintings of the period, for example The Plaza Tiller Girls 1928 (private collection).9 The art historian Wendy Baron has also observed the similarity of the ‘light tonality and clear chalky colouring, and the scumbled handling of the dry paint’ to the distinctive style of the series of paintings known as the ‘Echoes’ (see Tate T05529).10 The predominance of unbroken blue sky and the bleached colouring of the background are particularly reminiscent of Summer Lightning c.1931–2 (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool).11 Any corresponding visual associated material for The Front at Hove is unknown, but by this stage Sickert was most frequently deriving images for works from photographic sources.
The painting was purchased by the Tate Gallery from the dealer R.E.A. Wilson for £500, ‘an exceptionally low price for such a picture’.12 Wilson later wrote to the Tate’s director, James Bolivar Manson, conveying Sickert’s anxiety regarding the cataloguing of the work as The Front at Hove:
I am being constantly blown up by Sickert for having sold a picture under a wrong title. He does not like the name “The Front at Hove” & is very anxious to have the picture shown under its real name which is:– TURPE SENEX MILES TURPE SENILIS AMOR. Would it be possible to have the tabler attend to this? It would delight Sickert if you would do so.13
Sickert himself also made a point of correcting the title in a letter to the Daily Mirror where he condemned the oversight. ‘If our curators are going to rechristen our paintings,’ he wrote, ‘they will probably end by repainting them.’14

Nicola Moorby
August 2005

Notes

1
‘Sickert’s Latest’, ?1930, source unknown, Walter Sickert press cuttings, Islington Public Libraries, London.
2
Wendy Baron, Sickert: Paintings and Drawings, New Haven and London 2006, p.529.
3
Matthew Sturgis, Walter Sickert: A Life, London 2005.
4
Robert Emmons, The Life and Opinions of Walter Richard Sickert, London 1941, p.212.
5
Information supplied by Damian Kerr, http://www.mybrightonandhove.org.uk/, accessed March 2003.
6
Ovid, Amores, I, ix, line 4; quoted in Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, Tate Gallery Catalogues: The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, vol.2, London 1964, p.625.
7
Baron 2006, p.529.
8
‘Walter Sickert’s Class: Method of Instruction’, Manchester Guardian, 31 October 1930.
9
Wendy Baron and Richard Shone (eds.), Sickert: Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy, London 1992, p.298.
10
Wendy Baron, Sickert, London 1973, p.177.
11
Reproduced in Royal Academy 1992 (113).
12
French Gallery, letter to Tate Gallery, July 1932, Tate Acquisition file TG 4/2/956/1.
13
R.E.A. Wilson, letter to James Bolivar Manson, 3 February 1933, Tate Acquisition file TG 4/5/956/1.
14
Walter Richard Sickert, ‘Damnant Quod Non Intelligunt’, Daily Mirror, 24 March 1933.

How to cite

Nicola Moorby, ‘The Front at Hove (Turpe Senex Miles Turpe Senilis Amor) 1930 by Walter Richard Sickert’, catalogue entry, August 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-the-front-at-hove-turpe-senex-miles-turpe-senilis-amor-r1139302, accessed 26 December 2014.