For my second archive blog, I have chosen to talk about a series of items of clothing, consisting of a set of overalls (two pairs of trousers and three jackets), and a red cotton bag, used by the artist Walter Sickert. Sickert was a German-born English Impressionist painter and a member of the Camden Town Group, renowned for favouring ordinary people and urban scenes for his subjects. Sickert used these items in Dieppe and in Envermeu (France), where he first went in the summer of 1912. Both pairs of trousers and one of the jackets bear the initials W.S. and the bag is embroidered SICKERT. I was inspired to choose them because of the controversy over The Portrait of a Man, as shown in the recent exhibition Close Examination: Fakes, Mistakes and Discoveries at the National Gallery. The painting was attributed to Eugene Delacroix, but there has been a suggestion that it was done by Sickert, deliberately emulating the style of Delacroix. The speculation brings to mind the infamous controversy involving Patricia Cornwell, and her belief that Sickert was in fact Jack the Ripper. As part of her forensic methods, Cornwell had the overalls tested for DNA that might help prove her case, with inconclusive results. These items also help to illustrate the variety of items found in the archive, not only do we have Sickert’s clothing, but we also house several other Sickert-related items. These include his camera lucida, with twelve lenses and housed in a leather case, his calling cards and wallet. Tate Archive also houses a considerable amount of Sickert correspondence, photographs and drawings. Would the two controversies outlined above cause you to question the authenticity and interpretation of material held in archives?
Written by David Pilling