Walter Richard Sickert

Mrs Barrett


Not on display

Walter Richard Sickert 1860–1942
Pastel on paper on board
Support: 540 × 711 mm
Frame: 875 × 690 × 67 mm
Presented by the Contemporary Art Society 1940

Catalogue entry


The identity of the woman in this pastel has been a subject of complex speculation. In Sickert’s oil titled Mrs Barrett 1906 (private collection),1 what could be the same model – albeit looking perhaps somewhat younger – appears dressed like a coster-girl, with a large, wide-brimmed hat. On a postcard to his friend Elizabeth Swinton, Sickert inscribed a drawing of its composition, ‘Thursday afternoon. New model.’ 1906 (private collection).2 Unfortunately, he does not mention the sitter’s name. In her 1960 Sickert catalogue, Lillian Browse wrote that Mrs Barrett was Sickert’s one-time charlady, but after the catalogue’s publication Mrs Barrett’s daughter-in-law contacted her with a photograph, informing her that Mrs Barrett had been a dressmaker.3 The oil once belonged to Robert Emmons, as did another pastel of the same sitter, which in his lifetime was titled Blackmail. Mrs Barrett 1905 (National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa).4 Seated in a chair, hand on chin, this is quite evidently the same sitter as in the Tate pastel, her hair parted and coiffed in exactly the same way. When Blackmail. Mrs Barrett was unframed, an old Bernheim label and another handwritten one gave the title as Popolana Veneziana, which can be translated as ‘Woman of the Venetian People’. This would seem to contradict the identification of the sitter as Mrs Barrett, unless she was Venetian.
Emmons knew Sickert only from 1927, when he enrolled in his art school at Highbury Place, Islington,5 long after any association Sickert would have had with Mrs Barrett. But as his biographer, in touch with many of Sickert’s circle as well as the artist himself, it is probable that he would have had some corroboration of the sitter’s name in the two works in his collection. In a letter to the Tate Gallery in 1958, Emmons confirmed that, ‘I always thought the sitter for Blackmail was Mrs Barrett’.6 As to Mrs Barrett’s profession, Emmons commented:
I don’t know whether Mrs Barrett was a charlady or not. I am glad you have that wonderful pastel ... I had a good portrait of her in oils, & she did not look like a char.7

Robert Upstone
May 2009


Reproduced in Wendy Baron, Sickert: Paintings and Drawings, New Haven and London 2006, no.267 and Sickert: Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy, London 1992 (52).
Reproduced in Baron 2006, no.267.1.
Lillian Browse, Sickert, London 1960, p.29; see Baron 2006, no.266.
Reproduced as Popolana Veneziana in Baron 2006, no.239 and Royal Academy 1992 (45).
Matthew Sturgis, Walter Sickert: A Life, London 2005, p.561.
Letter from Robert Emmons, 29 November 1958, Tate Catalogue file.
Letter from Robert Emmons, 27 November 1958, Tate Catalogue file.
7 December 1958, Tate Catalogue file.
See Royal Academy 1992 (45). Although Elizabeth Swinton was born in Russia, she was in fact English, not Russian, an assumption Sickert made when he first met her. See Sturgis 2005, p.347.
See Wendy Baron in Royal Academy 1992 (45).
Baron 2006, no.331 and Royal Academy 1992 (63).
See Anna Gruetzner Robins in Degas, Sickert and Toulouse-Lautrec: London and Paris 1870–1910, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2005, pp.169–71.
Lionello Venturi, Cézanne, son art – son oeuvre, Paris 1936, no.706; reproduced in Cézanne, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1995 (163).
Adrien Chappuis, The Drawings of Paul Cézanne: A Catalogue Raisonné, Greenwich, Connecticut 1973, no.980; reproduced in Tate Gallery 1995 (111).
Joachim Gasquet, Cézanne, Paris 1921, p.21; quoted in Tate Gallery 1995, p.396 n.26.
Baron 2006, no.408.
Reproduced in Ruth Bromberg, Walter Sickert Prints: A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London 2000, no.210.
See the index of Anna Gruetzner Robins (ed.), Walter Sickert: The Complete Writings on Art, Oxford 2000.
See Baron 2006, no.339.1.

Read full Catalogue entry


You might like