The Camden Town Group in Context

ISBN 978-1-84976-385-1

Follower of Walter Richard Sickert The Straw Hat c.1911

This archetypal Camden Town Group subject, a woman wearing a flat straw hat popular among London flower-sellers, or costermongers, is the work of an unidentified artist. Made in the interior of Walter Sickert’s studio, Wellington House Academy on the corner of Granby Street and 247 Hampstead Road, the left-facing profile, careful detail of elaborately coiled hair and resemblance of the sitter to female models in Sickert’s own paintings reveals his strong influence on the picture’s style, subject matter and composition.
Follower of Walter Richard Sickert 1860–1942
The Straw Hat
c.1911
Graphite on paper
279 x 190 mm
Presented by the Contemporary Art Society 1941
N05309

Entry

Walter Richard Sickert 'Lou! Lou! I Love You' 1911
Fig.1
Walter Richard Sickert
Lou! Lou! I Love You 1911
Tate Archive TGA 8120/3/49
© Estate of Walter R. Sickert / DACS
Although the artist remains unidentified, this drawing of a young girl wearing a type of flat straw hat popularly associated with London street-sellers or costerwomen is an archetypal Camden Town Group subject. Formerly credited to Harold Gilman, but uncharacteristic of his style, the drawing has also been connected in the past with its previous owner, Walter Richard Sickert. The appearance of the model with her boater style hat, elaborately coiled hair and fur-collared coat, as well as her left-facing profile, is highly reminiscent of Sickert’s painting Mother and Daughter: Lou Lou I Love You 1911 (private collection),1 the related etching, Mother and Daughter, published in 1915,2 and its pen and ink study, reproduced in the New Age in July 1911 (fig.1).
In 1941 the Director of the Tate Gallery, John Rothenstein, asked his uncle and former Fitzroy Street Group member, Albert Rutherston (1881–1953), to give his opinion as to its authorship. In a letter to his nephew, Rutherston wrote:
I have examined very carefully the 2 drawings attributed to Innes & Gilman. [Randolph] Schwabe came along with me. He agrees entirely with my view of the Gilman – it is a Sickert – not a Gilman. The girl was my model for the Laundry and Coster Girls pictures & she only sat to Sickert (occasionally) apart from myself. This is corroborative evidence but apart from this Gilman could not have made this drawing. He had not this power with pencil & pen & the touch is Sickert’s – a careful Sickert.3
Despite Rutherston’s certainty, and despite the obvious similarity to other compositions, the careful tonal style of The Straw Hat is quite unlike Sickert’s style of draughtsmanship and since 1964 the work has been ascribed to a follower.4 This attribution has also been endorsed by the art historian Wendy Baron who believes the artist was
definitely someone who used Sickert’s studios and his models between 1908 and 1911. On grounds of style, I think Malcolm Drummond is more likely than Gilman but in truth there are simply too many possibilities to narrow it down without some kind of supporting, documentary evidence.5
She has identified the fireplace in the background of the drawing as the same as that which appears in a number of Sickert’s works dating from his Camden Town period, including The New Home 1908 (fig.2) and Ennui c.1914 (Tate N03846). As Baron has confirmed, this identifies the setting of the drawing as the ‘Wellington House Academy’ studio on the corner of Granby Street and 247 Hampstead Road, which Sickert rented between at least 1908 and 1914.6 Although he never officially ran an art school from there, it seems likely that he shared both the space, and his models, with some of his many students during this period. The catalogue of an exhibition held at the Carfax Gallery in 1913 by ‘Past and Present Pupils of Mr Sickert’, for example, contains a couple of drawings and etchings by Regina Middleton entitled Dickens’ First School.7 This may be a reference to the ‘Wellington House Academy’, so called because it had once housed a school by that name attended by Charles Dickens.8
Walter Richard Sickert 'The New Home' 1908
Fig.2
Walter Richard Sickert
The New Home 1908
Private collection, Ivor Braka Ltd
© Estate of Walter R. Sickert / DACS
Photo © Ivor Braka Ltd, London
Albert Rutherston 'Laundry Girls' 1906
Fig.3
Albert Rutherston
Laundry Girls 1906
Tate N04996
© Tate

There are at least two possible suggestions regarding the identity of the female model in The Straw Hat. As Rutherston proposed in the letter quoted above, the model may be the same figure as the fair-haired girl marking sheets in his painting, The Laundry Girls 1906 (Tate N04996, fig.3). In an article for the Burlington Magazine in 1943 Rutherston wrote:
I was fortunate at that moment in having several Coster girls as models for a series of paintings I was at work upon – The Laundry Girls (Tate Gallery) was one, and Emily, the younger of the two who sat for this, blonde, amusing and pert, found great favour in the eyes of Sickert, who delighted to draw and paint her. 9
A drawing by Rutherston of Emily in profile was reproduced in the same article and comparison with The Straw Hat reveals similar features, including a small upturned nose.10
Drawings by Walter Sickert January 1911
Fig.4
Drawings by Walter Sickert January 1911
V SICKER
Alternatively, Baron has speculated that the model is the same person featured in a 1908 drawing by Sickert, exhibited at the Carfax Gallery in 1911 as The American Sailor Hat.11 This study, related to the oil painting L’Américaine 1908 (Tate N05090), depicts a girl facing right with her left hand under her chin. Aside from the ubiquitous hat and the profile of her face, a close resemblance can be seen to the twisted hairstyle fastened by a large comb. An annotated copy of the catalogue in the Tate Archive includes an inscription by the entry for this drawing which reads ‘Sally Waters green char[coal]’ (fig.4).12 Baron has argued that this is because the author of the comments (possibly fellow Camden Town member, John Doman Turner) recognised the model as a familiar face.13 However, it is also possible that the writer merely identified a link between the drawing and yet another image by Sickert of a woman in a hat, the lithograph entitled Little Sally Waters 1907,14 published in a quarterly magazine, the Neolith, in May 1908.
Regardless of whether the girl in The Straw Hat is Emily or Sally Waters, the actual identity of the sitter is of secondary importance to her perceived social classification. Like many of the women who feature in Camden Town images she is representative of a particular urban stereotype. Her flat straw hat, combined with the fact that she is wearing an outdoor coat in an interior setting, lead the viewer to the inevitable assumption that this woman is a working class urban type, the Camden Town coster-girl.15

Nicola Moorby
February 2009

Notes

1
Reproduced in Wendy Baron, Sickert: Paintings and Drawings, New Haven and London 2006, no.368.
2
Ruth Bromberg, Walter Sickert Prints: A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London 2000, no.171.
3
Albert Rutherston, letter to John Rothenstein, 30 November 1941, Tate Archive TGA 8726/4/11.
4
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, Tate Gallery Catalogues: The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, vol.2, London 1964, p.641.
5
Wendy Baron, letter to Tate, February 2004, Tate Catalogue file.
6
Wendy Baron, letter to Tate, February 2004, Tate Catalogue file.
7
Paintings, Drawings and Etchings by Past and Present Pupils of Mr. Sickert, exhibition catalogue, Carfax Gallery, London 1913, nos.60–2. Regina Middleton was the niece of Diana White, a friend of Lucien and Esther Pissarro.
8
Matthew Sturgis, Walter Sickert: A Life, London 2005, p.400.
9
Albert Rutherston, ‘From Orpen and Gore to the Camden Town Group’, Burlington Magazine, vol.83, no.485, August 1943, p.202.
10
Ibid., p.203, Plate II, B.
11
Baron 2006, no.350.6. Reproduced in British and Irish Traditionalist and Modernist Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, Christie’s, London, 3 March 1989 (lot 309).
12
Anna Gruetzner Robins, Walter Sickert: Drawings, Aldershot and Vermont 1996, p.89.
13
Baron 2006, p.370.
14
Reproduced in Bromberg 2000, no.126.
15
See Nicola Moorby, ‘Portrait / Figure / Type’, in Modern Painters: The Camden Town Group, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2008, pp.97, 101, 102 and 106.

How to cite

Nicola Moorby, ‘The Straw Hat c.1911 by Follower of Walter Richard Sickert’, catalogue entry, February 2009, in Helena Bonett, Ysanne Holt, Jennifer Mundy (eds.), The Camden Town Group in Context, Tate Research Publication, May 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/camden-town-group/follower-of-walter-richard-sickert-the-straw-hat-r1135619, accessed 06 December 2019.