The Camden Town Group in Context

ISBN 978-1-84976-385-1

Walter Richard Sickert Café des Tribunaux, Dieppe c.1890

Walter Sickert first visited Dieppe in 1879 with his parents and regularly returned, often for extended periods, to live and work there. This daytime view shows the fashionable Café des Tribunaux in the middle distance, with the shops lining the Grande Rue receding into the sunlight beyond. A technically complex reflection of the café is painted in the window of the barber-shop on the right.
Walter Richard Sickert 1860–1942
Café des Tribunaux, Dieppe
c.1890
Oil paint on canvas
605 x 732 mm
Presented by Sylvia Gosse 1917
N03182

Entry

First exhibited under the title Dieppe at the April exhibition of the New English Art Club in 1891, Walter Sickert’s picture attracted only modest critical attention, although all of it was positive. Generally the show received few reviews, and most of those focused on Philip Wilson Steer’s Mrs Cyprian Williams (Tate N04422). The Sunday Times noted of the exhibition that:
The present collection offers nothing to shock or amaze the average picture buyer. Mr Walter Sickert gives us no more startling studies of the music-halls ... [he] has never done anything better than ‘Dieppe’, a vivid vision of the place that palpitates with actuality, and is entirely pictorial.1
The Echo concurred, writing that Sickert was
usually the amusingly eccentric exhibitor at these shows. But this year it has pleased him to demonstrate to the outer public that there was something in his private reputation. His ‘Dieppe’, a street scene, a blue picture in a black frame, is full of motion, light, and sparkle, happy and true, distinctly the best thing he has ever shown.2
The Café des Tribunaux was one of the best-known landmarks of Dieppe, and continues its trade today. It stands at the focal point of the town on the Puits Salé, where two streets that run up from the harbour side, the Rue St Jacques and the Grande Rue, converge. Sickert shows the view down the Grande Rue, the main shopping street of Dieppe. Since 1945 the café has been refaced and the Grande Rue widened, so that the shops on the right of the picture no longer exist.
Dieppe was a popular town with British visitors and holidaymakers in this period, and the Café des Tribunaux was a common destination. As a familiar sight it might be assumed that the subject would appeal to picture buyers. The prominent British presence in Dieppe is attested to by the barber’s sign on the right of Sickert’s picture which is partly in English. Sickert himself had a long-standing connection with the town. He first went there on holiday with his parents in August 1879 and after his engagement in 1885 visited regularly. Later he had a studio there and spent much of his time between 1895 and 1905 in the town. Dieppe became a focus for a long series of paintings by Sickert from this time (including Tate N05045, N05094, N05096), but it also formed the subject of some of his earliest works, small oil on panel studies from 1885 of the beach and local sites.3
Walter Richard Sickert 'The Red Shop (The October Sun)' c.1888
Fig.1
Walter Richard Sickert
The Red Shop (The October Sun) c.1888
Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery
© Estate of Walter R. Sickert / DACS 2010
Photo © Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery
Walter Richard Sickert 'The Music Hall or The P.S. Wings in the O.P. Mirror' 1888–9
Fig.2
Walter Richard Sickert
The Music Hall or The P.S. Wings in the O.P. Mirror 1888–9
Rouen, Musée des Beaux-Arts. Donation Jacques-Emile Blanche, 1922
© Estate of Walter R. Sickert / DACS
Photo © Musées de la Ville de Rouen. Photographie C. Lancien, C. Loisel


Sickert’s treatment of Café des Tribunaux brings together two quite different elements of his work in the later 1880s. Following James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s example, Sickert made a number of small pictures of shop fronts, shown full on, such as The Red Shop (The October Sun) c.1888 (fig.1). While the shops in the Dieppe painting are treated differently, there seems some connection with this existing interest. The other attribute that draws on a success with wholly different subjects is the extremely articulate and technically complex reflection of the café in the window of the barber-shop. Mirrors and reflections appear to have held some fascination for Sickert and formed a feature of some of his music-hall paintings in the late 1880s. In The P.S. Wings in the O.P. Mirror 1888–9 (fig.2), for instance, the performer is depicted reflected in a side mirror, creating a dynamic composition of audience and singer. This was a picture much admired for its ingenuity by the Star, which praised ‘the FEELING OF REFLECTED LIGHT with which all the picture is filled’.4
Sickert was an habitué of the Puits Salé, and each day would sit outside the Café de Rouen, across the way from the Café des Tribunaux.5 It is perhaps from this position that the view in the painting is seen. Sickert’s brother Oswald recalled in a letter of 1895 that it was at the Café de Rouen that, ‘Walter always used to meet me at 12.30 and draw pictures on the little round tables’.6 In 1885 he had made an etching of the Café des Tribunaux.7 This shows the café across the Puits Salé but from the opposite side of the road to the Tate painting, and showing the receding view down the Rue St Jacques. But the concept of mixing an empty foreground, a long receding street and the flat front of the café occupying the middle ground is essentially the same.
Sickert made a second oil of the café which shows a similar standpoint as the etching (?exhibited 1891, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa).8 This is painted in an upright format, unlike the Tate picture’s landscape canvas, and contains greater human incident in the street. A pen and ink wash drawing has near identical resemblance to the Tate picture (private collection),9 and was almost certainly made to be published as an illustration. However, the areas of shadow in the painting have translated into heavy areas of black in this monochrome design. In 1893 Sickert published a pen and ink illustration of the Ottawa painting in the Cambridge Observer, perhaps as a replacement design.10
At Sickert’s Bernheim-Jeune exhibition in Paris in 1904, a Café des Tribunaux (45) was lent by Adolphe Tavernier. An oil painting Café des Tribunaux was lent by Carfax & Co. to the Contemporary Art Society exhibition in Manchester in December 1911 (65), and again to Leeds in February 1912 (7). Either or both of these may have been the Tate painting or the Ottawa canvas. Edward Marsh recalled the Tate picture coming up at Christie’s, when it was bought by Carfax. No other Dieppe picture in the Tate collection fits the provenance, so it appears he was writing of Café des Tribunaux:
Some ten years later I saw at Christie’s an extremely attractive ‘Street in Dieppe’ by Sickert, now also a glory of the Tate, and like an idiot I decided to bid for it myself instead of giving a commission to the Carfax people, who were my usual allies. There were 2 other bidders, one of whom dropt out at £14; and I drove the second up to £35 before dropping out myself. I found next day that he was Carfax, so that if I hadn’t been so inopportunely independent the prize must have been knocked down to me for £15.11

Robert Upstone
May 2009

Notes

1
Sunday Times, 12 April 1891.
2
Echo, 16 April 1891.
3
Wendy Baron, Sickert: Paintings and Drawings, New Haven and London 2006, nos.19–31, reproduced.
4
Star, 3 December 1889.
5
Matthew Sturgis, Walter Sickert: A Life, London 2005, p.222.
6
Oswald Sickert, letter to Edward Marsh, 30 August 1895; quoted in Edward Marsh, A Number of People: A Book of Reminiscences, London 1939, p.51.
7
Ruth Bromberg, Walter Sickert Prints: A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London 2000, no.56, reproduced.
8
Baron 2006, no.84.1, reproduced
9
Ibid., no.84.2, reproduced.
10
Cambridge Observer, 7 February 1893; Baron 2006, no.84.3; reproduced in Lillian Browse, Sickert, London 1960, pl.9a.
11
Marsh 1939, p.365.

How to cite

Robert Upstone, ‘Café des Tribunaux, Dieppe c.1890 by Walter Richard Sickert’, catalogue entry, May 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/walter-richard-sickert-cafe-des-tribunaux-dieppe-r1139295, accessed 17 June 2019.