After Camden Town: Sickert’s Legacy since 1930
Lessore also showed work by Royal College contemporaries of Bratby and co. which generated a more muted response at the time, but acquired more substantial and lasting recognition in the long term. The art of Frank Auerbach in particular has remained profoundly rooted in the example of Sickert, merging with the inspiration he derived from his sometime teacher David Bomberg (who had himself taken drawing classes with Sickert), the early work of Chaim Soutine, and Old Masters such as Rembrandt whom he obsessively studied in the National Gallery. The sheer presence of paint in Sickert becomes hugely magnified in Auerbach’s thickly worked pictures, which also extend and intensify Sickert’s essentially tonal use of browns and ochres, and his preference for extreme contrasts of light and shadow. At the same time, Sickert was one point of reference for Auerbach’s ambition to fuse visceral painterly surface, evoking the massive substance of external reality, with rigorous, often geometric pictorial architecture and with the evocation of immaterial sensations of light. The importance of drawing, as an intermediary between registering observations and constructing design, comprises another shared priority for the two artists. Even the fact that Auerbach has always worked in a studio in Camden, very close to one of Sickert’s own studios, suggests a conscious continuity.
Auerbach and Kossoff have been grouped with two somewhat older painters, Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, and with their Slade-trained contemporary, Michael Andrews, under the diffuse label ‘The School of London’. An enthusiasm for Sickert was certainly one common denominator behind their otherwise diverse work. In the case of Freud, the neglect by critics of his dialogue with Sickert is symptomatic of a mythology around his work of the innocent eye (‘My method was so arduous that there was no room for influence’), as though his fellow Viennese émigré Ernst Gombrich had not demonstrated that observation is always mediated by artistic conventions and responses, which inevitably shape the decisions an artist makes regarding the choice and treatment of subject matter.16 The most obvious connection is the two artists’ preoccupation with the image of the nude. Freud may well have read Sickert’s 1910 essay on ‘The naked and the Nude’, which denounced the clichés and ‘intellectual and artistic bankruptcy’ of the artistic Nude, placed ‘in opposition to the naked’, calling for a more inventive and realistic approach to such imagery.17 Sickert celebrated the example provided by Edgar Degas, who ‘has incessantly chosen to draw figures from unaccustomed points of view’, and declared that ‘perhaps the chief source of pleasure in the aspect of a nude is that it is in the nature of a gleam – a gleam of light and warmth and life. And so to appear it should be set in surroundings of drapery or other contrasting surfaces.’18
How to cite
Martin Hammer, ‘After Camden Town: Sickert’s Legacy since 1930’, in Helena Bonett, Ysanne Holt, Jennifer Mundy (eds.), The Camden Town Group in Context, Tate Research Publication, May 2012, https://www