Degas, Sickert and Toulouse-Lautrec: Room 6

Sickert and the Paris art world

The 1900s

This room and the following two rooms bring the exhibition to a close by focusing on the work of Sickert and his contemporaries during the 1900s.

Sickert exhibited in at least fifteen Paris exhibitions between 1900 and 1909. By now he had established a reputation as a modernist artist, in a field dominated by French painters, and his works were both collected and admired in France.

Significantly, Sickert shared the same Paris art dealer as Edouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard: the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery. The visual connections between their works are important, but usually overlooked. The three shared the same preoccupations, which they sought to express in a similar visual language.

The works by Sickert, Bonnard and Vuillard displayed here, alongside studies by Degas, Whistler and Rodin, show a common interest in intimate, psychologically charged interiors, with figures seen from strange, awkward angles. In this context, the female nude gained new significance as the prime subject for experimental art. These developments derive, ultimately, from the influence of Degas.

Sickert is wavering between Bonnard and Whistler
The art critic Paul Jamot on Sickert, 1905

Edgar Degas, ‘Bed-Time’ c.1880–5
Edgar Degas
Bed-Time c.1880–5

This is one of a group of pastels by Degas which re-invent the titillating subject matter associated with the eighteenth-century ‘Rococo’ style. Each focuses on a nude woman getting into bed.

Originally, such delicate, sensual images suggested the decadence of courtly life. In Degas’s hands, they are made much more ‘modern’ in their appearance.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler Nude Model Reclining 1900 Pastel on brown paper

James Abbott McNeill Whistler Nude Model Reclining 1900Pastel on brown paper

In pastel studies like the one above, created towards the end of his life, Whistler engaged with the tradition of the female nude. The pose of this figure can be traced back to Renaissance sources.

Sickert would have seen such studies by Whistler around the time they were created. Many were also exhibited after the artist’s death, in a memorial exhibition held in London and at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris in 1905.

Walter Richard Sickert, ‘La Hollandaise’ c.1906
Walter Richard Sickert
La Hollandaise c.1906

A contemporary described one of Sickert’s nude studies as a ‘sombre jewel’. The description seems apt for this dark, atmospheric painting.

The title probably derives from the character of the prostitute, ‘la belle Hollandaise’ in Balzac’s novel Gobseck. Sickert’s ability to convey a sense of physical weight, and the frankness of his approach, drew admiration from some critics. But many others found unconventional paintings like this shocking.

Sickert presents his figure abruptly cut off and framed by the doorway. Her bent form creates a rectangle, which rhymes with the shapes of the interior.

The interest in the fragmented female body was a recurrent theme in the work of Sickert and his contemporaries. It relates to their interest in classical sculpture, where figures are frequently incomplete.

This was one of the pictures Sickert painted in a room in the Hôtel du Quai Voltaire in the autumn of 1906.

Walter Richard Sickert, ‘Woman Washing her Hair’ 1906
Walter Richard Sickert
Woman Washing her Hair 1906
James Abbott McNeill Whistler The Rose Drapery 1890 Chalk and watercolour on brown paper

James Abbott McNeill Whistler The Rose Drapery 1890Chalk and watercolour on brown paper

Photo © Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, University of Glasgow

Whistler uses a range of moody pinks in this study, enhanced by the brown of the paper. These colours re-appear in paintings by Sickert shown in this room.

Sickert knew the American-born Whistler personally. The older painter’s compositions and colours influenced Sickert, and there are often unexpected connections between their works.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler A Draped Model Reclining around 1900 Pastel and charcoal on brown paper

James Abbott McNeill Whistler A Draped Model Reclining around 1900Pastel and charcoal on brown paper

Photo © Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, University of Glasgow

Whistler created a number of pastels of female nudes likes this around 1900. They influenced Sickert when he turned to this theme a few years later.

The female nude had been a standard subject for painters for centuries. But Degas had encouraged a whole new approach to the nude. Artists like Whistler presented more naturalistic settings and strange, intriguing, poses or points of view.