- Walter Richard Sickert 1860–1942
- Oil paint on canvas
- Support: 511 × 406 mm
frame: 722 × 630 × 104 mm
- Purchased 1983
If there is one physical object which characterises Walter Sickert’s art, it is the iron bedstead which formed the centrepiece of numerous figure studies painted in London during the period 1905–9. This lowly piece of domestic furniture became the artist’s trademark, synonymous with both the subject matter and ethos of his paintings. His friend and model Cicely Hey, for example, described herself as the ‘last occupant’ of the iron bedstead,1 while the artist Diana White ironically asked Sickert if her niece, Regina Middleton, was required to buy one in order to become his pupil.2
The bed served a dual purpose as prop. Sickert organised his studio models in a series of poses based around the bed which allowed him to explore different figurative arrangements within an intimate environment. The physical appearance of the iron bedstead, however, was also important. It became symbolic of the social subjects Sickert sought to portray in his work, being functional and hard-wearing but also cheap and unrefined. It served as a metaphor for the urban working classes and the dingy London interiors – so beloved by the artist – which they inhabited. The iron bedstead appears principally in a number of pictures of the female nude from 1905–6, which later culminated in a series of works from 1908–9 known as the Camden Town Murder paintings.
The painting shows a female nude half-lying and half-seated upon a bed covered in white sheets with one leg crossed over the other and her left hand pushing down behind her, almost as though she is in the process of getting up. The bed has been positioned face-on with the legs cut off by the bottom of the picture so that the viewer seems to be standing at its foot looking down upon the woman. There is a strong suggested light source to her left which illuminates the nearest planes of her body and casts the right-hand side of her face and torso into deep shadow. Little detail is discernible about the rest of the room apart from a partial view of a large mirror on the wall behind, in which can be seen a reflection. The art historian Wendy Baron has identified a related drawing in charcoal, graphite and chalk in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.3 In this drawing a nude of the same appearance and build is fully reclined on the bed with her right arm raised behind her head and her right leg thrown across the left, in the opposite direction to the painting. It is perhaps more closely related to another oil of the same period, Nuit d’été c.1906 (fig.1),4 which seems to show the same room as La Hollandaise. The same iron bedstead also appears in other drawings and paintings including Le Lit de fer c.1905 (private collection)5 and The Iron Bedstead c.1906 (The Earl and Countess of Harewood).6
‘The naked and the Nude’
Cicely Hey, ‘Walter Sickert: Sketch for a Portrait’, BBC Home Service radio interview, British Library LP26655: Side 1.
W.S. Meadmore, Lucien Pissarro: Un Coeur Simple, London 1962, p.62.
Reproduced in Wendy Baron, Sickert: Paintings and Drawings, New Haven and London 2006, no.253.1.
Reproduced ibid., no.237 and Sickert: Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy, London 1992 (44).
Reproduced in Baron 2006, no.251.
Walter Sickert, ‘Idealism’, Art News, 12 May 1910, in Anna Gruetzner Robins (ed.), Walter Sickert: The Complete Writings on Art, Oxford 2000, p.229.
See Anna Gruetzner Robins, Walter Sickert: Drawings, Aldershot and Vermont 1996, pp.42, 95 n.42.
Rebecca Daniels, ‘Walter Sickert and Urban Realism: Ordinary Life and Tragedy in Camden Town’, British Art Journal, vol.111, no.2, Spring 2002, p.60.
Anna Gruetzner Robins and Richard Thomson, Degas, Sickert, Toulouse-Lautrec: London and Paris 1870–1910, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2005, p.182.
Walter Sickert, ‘On the Conduct of a Talent’, New Age, 11 June 1914, p.131, in Robins (ed.) 2000, p.377.
Walter Sickert, ‘The naked and the Nude’, New Age, 21 July 1910, p.277, in Robins (ed.) 2000, p.263.
Baron 2006, no.348.
Baron 2006, no.354.
Honoré de Balzac, Rise and Fall of Cesar Birotteau, 1838.
Reproduced in Baron 2006, no.206.
Reproduced ibid., no.240.
Baron 2006, no.235; reproduced in Royal Academy 1992, fig.123, p.158.
Reproduced in Baron 2006, no.261.
Reproduced ibid., no.265.
Wendy Baron, ‘The Process of Invention. Interrelated or Interdependent: Sickert’s Drawings and Paintings of Intimate Figure Subjects’, in Walter Sickert: The Camden Town Nudes, exhibition catalogue, Courtauld Institute of Art, London 2007, p.35, reproduced fig.13, p.31; Baron 2006, no.217.