The Camden Town Group in Context

ISBN 978-1-84976-385-1

Walter Richard Sickert Jacques-Emile Blanche c.1910

In 1885 Walter Sickert met the French painter Jacques-Émile Blanche, whose patronage and social influence contributed to his early successes. Rendered in a pointillist manner, Blanche’s facial features contrast with the depiction of the smooth, dark fabric of his overcoat. The back of a stretched canvas is visible leaning against a wall in the background, which, together with his slightly tipped hat, evokes a bohemian unconventionality.
Walter Richard Sickert 1860–1942
Jacques-Émile Blanche
c.1910
Oil paint on canvas
610 x 508 mm
Purchased (Clarke Fund) 1938
N04912

Entry

Born in Paris, the son of a society neurologist, Jacques-Émile Blanche (1861–1942) was a French painter of portraits and landscapes. He enjoyed fashionable success during his lifetime. From 1884 he visited England almost every year, where he regularly submitted work for exhibition. Blanche’s parents kept a house at Dieppe which was a centre for the town’s social scene, as was Blanche’s studio there at Le Bas Fort Blanc. In Dieppe in the mid-1880s Blanche encountered a cross-section of artists and cultural critics, including George Moore, Arthur Symons, Aubrey Beardsley and Charles Conder, as well as Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, Paul Helleu and André Gide.1 When he visited Dieppe in 1885 Walter Sickert visited Blanche, although it seems likely they had met for the first time earlier the same year in London. Blanche’s memoirs suggest this first meeting took place when he visited his friend, Mrs Edwin Edwards, who with her husband was on friendly terms with the painter Henri Fantin-Latour. Sickert had been dispatched there by Whistler to try to persuade Fantin-Latour to visit the American artist’s studio.2 It was in Blanche’s Dieppe house in 1885 that Sickert refreshed his acquaintance with Degas.3
Sickert and Blanche became close friends at this time, and the art historian Wendy Baron has written:
The significance of the role played by Jacques-Émile Blanche in Sickert’s life can hardly be stressed too strongly. Sickert himself treated Blanche rather casually in later life. Their friendship cooled towards the end of the first decade of the twentieth century when Sickert gradually dismissed Blanche as a fussy, rather gloomy and lightweight personality. This change of attitude was typical ... and did not do justice to Blanche’s gifts nor to the help he had given Sickert in his early years.4
In 1909 Sickert wrote to Mrs Hammersley, the wife of one of his patrons, making plain his feelings about Blanche:
You may not, probably do not know that in a sense I have treated Blanche who is a very old friend very badly ... The peculiar angle of his somewhat gossipy mind, and ... pushing character of his art politics, which happen to be diametrically opposed to mine decided me that it was absolutely necessary for my peace & comfort to avoid him & his friends as much as I could. He is a little too officious, kindly officious, but too inconvenient & too compromising. Fortunately the reality of my incessant occupation has enabled me to avoid many people I used constantly to see, without apparent unkindness ... I have even written displeasing things about Blanche’s work in my articles.5
But Blanche appears to have been central to Sickert’s early success. He used his influence with the Paris dealers Durand-Ruel and Bernheim-Jeune to get them to exhibit Sickert’s work, and obtained commissions for him from private clients and election to the Salon d’Automne. He purchased a large number of Sickert’s paintings himself, far more than any other single owner, and through such generosity was evidently deliberately subsidising his friend. Many of these pictures were given away to friends, and the large number remaining was bequeathed to the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Rouen.6

Blanche painted Sickert a number of times, notably the picture from 1898 that is in the National Portrait Gallery.7 The Tate portrait of Blanche, however, appears to be the only painting Sickert made of his friend, although he made a pen and ink drawing in 1890 that was published in the Whirlwind.8 According to Sickert’s student and biographer Robert Emmons, the Tate portrait was painted at Rowlandson House which Sickert rented in about 1910 (see Tate N05088).9 However, when it was reproduced in Blanche’s autobiography Portraits of a Lifetime (1937), he himself gave it the date 1906, which would preclude it from having been made in Rowlandson House. That it was painted in a studio is confirmed by the presence of a stretched canvas, with its back facing outwards, glimpsed behind Blanche’s shoulders. Blanche may perhaps have misremembered the date, but it has also been said that the portrait was made to celebrate his election to a gentlemen’s club in St James’s.10
Walter Richard Sickert 'The Studio: The Painting of a Nude' 1906
Fig.1
Walter Richard Sickert
The Studio: The Painting of a Nude 1906
Private collection
© Estate of Walter R. Sickert / DACS
Courtesy of Browse & Darby
Baron formerly dated the portrait to 1910 in support of Emmons, but now believes it more likely to be from 1906 on stylistic grounds because of the pointillist manner in which the face is painted and the touches of pure colour which have resonance with another picture of that year, The Studio: The Painting of a Nude (fig.1).11 The cooling of Sickert’s feelings towards Blanche would also tend to support an earlier dating.
With its Whistlerian lack of foreground and placing of the figure against a wall Sickert creates a very direct confrontation with the sitter. Blanche immediately becomes part of the viewer’s space, and there is no recession or perspective in the composition. His dress is that of a gentleman about town – the combination of overcoat, white scarf and silk hat denoting a man of social standing and position. Like Sickert, Blanche enjoyed the creativity or dandyism that different clothing allowed. Here his conservative costume is partly an assertion that the painter is suited to the higher echelons of social position, but this was of course the position Blanche actually held. His father, Émile, was a noted and fashionable neural specialist, whose large clinic and grounds at Auteuil were painted by Sickert as L’Hotel de Lamballe, La Maison de Dr Blanche (private collection).12 However, Blanche’s wearing of a hat indoors, tipped back slightly on his head, strikes a note of bohemian unconventionality, at odds with the conservatism of the portrait’s ‘head and shoulders’ format.
The first owner of the portrait was Hildegard ‘Hilda’ Trevelyan (died 1948), daughter of the baronet Sir Alfred William Trevelyan of Nettlecombe, a descendent of the nineteenth-century historian George Trevelyan. An amateur painter, she was a close friend of Blanche, and also of Ethel Sands and Nan Hudson, and through them would have been on familiar terms with Sickert.13

Robert Upstone
May 2009

Notes

1
Wendy Baron, Sickert, London 1973, p.16.
2
Jacques-Émile Blanche, Portraits of a Lifetime, London 1937, p.45; Wendy Baron, Sickert, London 1973, pp.16, 20 n.4; Tate has in its collection Fantin-Latour’s Portrait of Mr and Mrs Edwin Edwards 1875 (Tate N01952).
3
Baron 1973, p.17.
4
Ibid., p.16.
5
Walter Sickert, letter to Mrs Hamersley, 1909; quoted in Wendy Baron, Sickert: Paintings and Drawings, New Haven and London 2006, no.269.
6
Baron 1973, pp.16–17.
7
NPG 4761. Reproduced in Jacques-Émile Blanche, peintre (1861–1942), exhibition catalogue, Musée des Beaux Arts, Rouen 1997 (31).
8
Reproduced in Baron 2006, no.57.
9
Robert Emmons, The Life and Opinions of Walter Richard Sickert, London 1992, p.139.
10
See Baron 2006, no.269.
11
See ibid., nos.269, 270.
12
Reproduced in Modern and Post-War British and Irish Art, Sotheby’s, London, 22 June 1994 (49).
13
See Wendy Baron, Miss Ethel Sands and her Circle, London 1977, p.76.

How to cite

Robert Upstone, ‘Jacques-Émile Blanche c.1910 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-jacques-mile-blanche-r1139023, accessed 27 February 2021.