Nudes and interiors
The pictures in this room reveal the intense preoccupation with the human figure apparent in the work of Sickert and his contemporaries during the 1900s.
These paintings present a distinctly modern, and sometimes disturbing, idea of the human figure. Darkness, fragmentation, mirrors and broken light create psychologically complex spaces. Many use what Sickert called ‘the unaccustomed points of view’ he had learnt from Degas.
The paintings of the artist’s studio reveal a new interest in the possibilities for creative expression and self-reflection within these closed, intimate spaces.
Some of the works in this room suggest an aggressive approach to sexuality. Rodin’s sculpted figure is frankly naked; the painted interior scenes imply a twilight world of prostitution, violence and melancholy. Arguably, they imply a firmly masculine perspective – for advanced artists, adventurous or even abusive representations of the female form demonstrated their skill and authority.
Sickert is the man of wine-coloured and blackish harmonies, of nudes thrown on a bed, at night.The critic Louis Vauxcelles on Sickert, 1905
This is the sculpted sketch for a larger bronze, which was exhibited in Paris in 1908. Rodin’s work influenced many contemporary painters. He helped encourage the revival of interest in classical sculpture apparent in many of the painted nudes in this room.
Sickert painted a number of figure groups like this one in Venice, around 1903-4. In these, two women are arranged and rearranged in interacting groups.
The inspiration from these pictures came from a work by Degas, which showed a pair of laundresses at work. Sickert was also influenced by Edouard Vuillard’s small paintings of interiors.
This painting presents a female nude in ways which may suggest the wider theme of artistic creativity. It contrasts with nude studies by Sickert and Bonnard, which can be seen nearby. Sickert’s pictures usually suggest a seedy rented setting; Bonnard’s paintings imply a comfortable domestic space.
Vuillard focuses instead on the studio as an artificial environment, where the artist’s will is paramount. He has played with the contrast between the model’s form and the angular shapes of the stacked canvasses and easel.
Sickert was interested in incorporating references to the classical nude within the naturalistic setting of the artist’s studio. This painting above is a particularly complex example.
The cast of a classical Venus you can see on the left of this picture is an intriguing detail. Bonnard kept a postcard of the same sculpture on his studio wall. The revival of interest in classical sculpture influenced the way artists like Bonnard, Sickert and Vuillard painted the nude.
This painting evokes an area of London close to Sickert’s heart.
A young girl – Sickert described her as ‘a little, Jewish girl of 13 or so’ – is about to open the French windows of a London house. The view through the window shows Mornington Crescent gardens, in Camden Town. Sickert had painted this area of north London since the 1880s. But in the coming years it would become the dominant theme in his art.
This painting exerted an important influence on Sickert. He saw it when it was exhibited in London or Glasgow in 1891, and bought it for himself in 1902. Degas’s picture is painted using essence (oil paint thinned with turps). This allowed painting and drawing to be combined, in a way that Sickert imitated.
Sickert later varnished this painting. This darkened it considerably, making it look more like his own works.
The painting shows the painter’s mother, although instead of being a portrait the picture sets out to use everyday objects to convey a sense of atmosphere and psychological interest. The detail of the mirror, presenting ‘real’ space as if it were a picture within this picture, is especially intriguing.
Paintings like the one seen above, show Bonnard’s preoccupation with nudes in domestic and studio settings, and his particular concern with the effects of mirror reflections.
Paintings like this must have affected Sickert’s treatment of similar themes. It may be significant that it was among several owned by the French dentist Dr Georges Viau, who also collected works by Sickert.
The model for this figure is a Venetian prostitute, called La Giuseppina. Her profession was made clear in another study of the same woman by Sickert, which he titled Putana a Casa (‘prostitute at home’).
This was one of a series of studies of women which Sickert painted in Venice in 1903–4. The map on the wall shows the Giudecca and the Zattere, the southern area of the city where he stayed.