Sylvia Gosse

Walter Richard Sickert


Not on display

Sylvia Gosse 1881–1968
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 508 × 305 mm
frame: 668 × 466 × 65 mm
Presented anonymously 1927

Display caption

Sylvia Gosse first met Sickert in 1908. He taught her at his art school at Rowlandson House. They developed a warm friendship which was to last until Sickert’s death in 1942.

This portrait is based on a photograph of Sickert taken in 1923 in a professional photographer’s studio. Sickert is shown as the professional artist he had then become, wearing a top hat and smart overcoat. In contrast to the tradition of male artists painting their female associates, in this portrait the woman paints her male mentor.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry



Walter Richard Sickert had an extraordinary facility for acquiring a loyal following of students and disciples, particularly younger women, who not only assimilated his teachings on art but provided a constant support network for the erratic, dominating, often demanding, but nevertheless charming artist. These admirers, whom the Parkin Gallery described in an exhibition of 1974 as the ‘Sickert women and Sickert girls’, included, in addition to Sylvia Gosse, who was the eldest, Thérèse Lessore (1884–1945, who married Sickert as his third wife in 1926), Wendela Boreel (1895–1985), Marjorie Lilly (1891–1980) and Christina Cutter (1893–1969). Boreel recalled how Sickert singled her out one day from the other students at the Slade in around 1911: ‘“Your drawing is far too good for here. I’ll install you in a studio in Mornington Crescent where you will paint each morning and then come to me in the afternoons”. So I became Sickert’s “petit nègre” [literally, little negro, meaning servant], to do all, and to be at his beck and call.’1 The most devoted of all of Sickert’s pupils was Gosse, whom Sickert’s first biographer Robert Emmons described in 1941 as the painter’s ‘firm friend and guardian angel’.2
Gosse first met Sickert in about 1908 at her family home in London. Her father was the eminent poet, author and critic Sir Edmund Gosse (1849–1928), and Sickert was one of a number of distinguished figures who frequented the house in Hanover Terrace, Regent’s Park. Sylvia Gosse hero-worshipped Sickert, who was twenty years her senior and already a well-established artist. In turn he was genuinely impressed by the quality of Gosse’s painting and took an interest in her development, encouraging her to study etching and eventually inviting her into partnership with him at his art school at Rowlandson House. For the rest of his life she supported him practically, emotionally, artistically and at times even financially, purchasing his work anonymously when he was especially short of funds. Whether he was working in Camden Town, Bath or Dieppe she chose to live close to him. In 1920 she helped to nurse Sickert’s frail wife, Christine, and after the latter’s death she bore the brunt of Sickert’s grief and depression. In later years she was one of the organising members of a fund to alleviate Sickert’s financial distress, and she helped Thérèse Lessore to look after the ageing artist until his death in 1942. She very often assisted in the studio, and prepared Sickert’s canvases, transferring the design from sketches or photographs and laying in the ‘camaieu’ under-painting in two or three shades of a single colour.




Nicola Moorby
April 2003


The Sickert Women and the Sickert Girls, exhibition catalogue, Parkin Gallery, London 1974, [p.12].
Robert Emmons, The Life and Opinions of Walter Richard Sickert, London 1941, p.138.
Islington Library, Y59X210 SIC (W.R), Acc. X1735.
Sylvia Gosse, letter to Mary Chamot, 3 May 1959, Tate Catalogue file.
Emmons 1941, reproduced between pp.208–9.
Denys Sutton, Walter Sickert: A Biography, London 1976, frontispiece.
National Portrait Gallery NPG 3775. Reproduced at National Portrait Gallery, London,, accessed 18 February 2011.
Sylvia Gosse, letter to the National Portrait Gallery, July 1950, Heinz Archive and Library.
Sutton 1976, p.210.
Quoted in Emmons 1941, p.241.
Information on William and Edward Drummond Young supplied by Peter Stubbs, April 2003,, accessed April 2003.
Edward Drummond Young, The Art of the Photographer, London 1929, p.19.
Ibid., p.158.
Walter Sickert, ‘Is the Camera The Friend or Foe of Art?’, Studio Magazine, July 1893, in Anna Gruetzner Robins (ed.), Walter Sickert: The Complete Writings on Art, Oxford and New York 2000, p.97.
Walter Sickert, ‘Evidence of Camera’, Daily Telegraph, 6 April 1929, in Robins (ed.) 2000, p.578.
Walter Sickert, ‘Artists and the Camera’, Times, 15 August 1929, in Robins (ed.) 2000, p.591.
Walter Sickert, ‘Black and White Illustration’, Lecture, 30 November 1934, in Robins (ed.) 2000, p.665.
Reproduced in Sylvia Gosse 1881–1968: Paintings and Prints, exhibition catalogue, Michael Parkin Gallery, London 1989 (20).
Drummond Young 1929, p.161.
Ibid., p.239.
Royal Academy, 1912 (1407), reproduced in Michael Parkin Gallery 1989 (41).
Ibid., [p.7].
Edmund Gosse, Father and Son: A Study of Two Temperaments, London 1907, p.1.
Ann Thwaite, Edmund Gosse: A Literary Landscape 1849–1928, Oxford and New York 1985, p.369.
‘Mr Sickert at the Tate’, Evening Standard, 6 December 1927.
Thwaite 1985, p.369, confirmed by Ann Thwaite in a letter to Tate, 6 May 2003, Tate Catalogue file.
Rupert Hart-Davis (ed.), Siegfried Sassoon Diaries 1923–25, London and Boston 1985, p.224.
Ibid., entry for 6 July 1924, p.153.

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