The Camden Town Group in Context

ISBN 978-1-84976-385-1

Walter Richard Sickert The Seducer c.1929-30

This late work by Sickert is part of the ‘Echoes’ series of around a hundred paintings which draw from designs found in old editions of the London Journal, Illustrated London News and other nineteenth-century periodicals. The pictures pay homage to Victorian illustrations by artists including John Gilbert, as in this painting, whom Sickert met as a young draughtsman and long admired.
Walter Richard Sickert 1860–1942
The Seducer
Oil paint on canvas
425 x 625 mm
Inscribed by the artist ‘Sickert trans scripsit.’ bottom right, ‘the Seducer.’ bottom centre and ‘After ¿John Gilbert.’ bottom left
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1989


This picture is from the series Walter Sickert made in the late 1920s and early 1930s which he described as ‘Echoes’. They were mainly copied from Victorian illustrations which he found in old editions of the Illustrated London News and similar publications; he made in all around a hundred such works. Sickert took The Seducer from a design by Sir John Gilbert (1818–1897), which is acknowledged in the inscription. The published source for the design remains unidentified. Sickert made more Echoes after Gilbert than after anyone else. The artist William Rothenstein wrote of the Echoes:
Walter’s latest works are a witty commentary on the nineteenth century, on its charm and absurdities, on its art at once so enchanting and so blatant. His mind remains ever alert to see the possibility most artists neglect.1
When Sickert had an exhibition at the Savile Gallery in March 1930 that included eight Echoes, among them The Seducer, responses were mixed. His friend Ethel Sands reported that there were ‘one or two good ones but mostly things from old caricatures which are desperately silly’.2 Similarly, the Bloomsbury artist Vanessa Bell judged them ‘idiotic’ and claimed they fell ‘between so many stools they hardly exist’.3 But in Apollo, the critic T.W. Earp praised them as
brilliant ... their line, necessarily less cramped than that of the original models, flows beautifully. It has the ease and personality of a signature. The colour is pushed to its most excessive limit and [is] admirably harmonious.4
Sir Osbert Sitwell, who knew Sickert well, described the genesis of the Echoes, writing how the artist’s
long hours spent in staring at prints and engravings and old newspapers, were beginning to bear fruit. In 1927 he began to paint his grand series Echoes, as they were called. The first of them was taken from a scene on the lid of a mid-nineteenth-century pomade-box, and they were all of this kind, adaptions, transposed to a larger scale, of works by older artists. But, because of this, and because also Sickert had reverted to the ancient studio practice of having assistants helping to prepare the ground, and because, still more, of his ineradicable sense of humour, the virtues and importance of these works have been minimised and in some quarters dismissed. Nor was it entirely the fault of the critical that this was so, for Sickert could never restrain his wit. One day, for instance, in the thirties, my brother [Sacheverell] met him at the Leicester Galleries, where an exhibition of his later work of this kind was in progress. Sickert turned round, after looking at a picture, and remarked to my brother:
‘It’s such a good arrangement; Cruikshank and Gilbert do all the work, and I get all the money!’5
John Gilbert was born in Blackheath and studied under George Lance (1802–1864), who had been a pupil of Benjamin Robert Haydon (1786–1846). As a young man Sickert knew Gilbert, and revered him both as a great artist and as a link with the past. In a lecture given at the Margate School of Art on 26 October 1934, taken down in shorthand by one of the students, he recalled his first meeting with Gilbert:
I was sent to him (a great piece of luck) as a draughtsman, as I was sent to see all sorts of people (I made drawings of Curzon, Labouchere and the Maharajah of Bhavnagar, a very mixed bag). I was sent down to see Gilbert in his beautiful house in Blackheath. He was then a venerable old man. He received me most amiably. While there, with the indiscretion of my then age, I began to preach to him about different principles and things ... I said I thought it nonsense for anyone to paint or draw from nature. In saying that then, I said something which I now regard to be more certainly true than I could have been expected to have appreciated at that early age. He replied laughingly, ‘Well, I am very glad to hear a young man say that, because I believe that too.’ He went on to say, ‘I may say I myself like to have my comforts about me’ ... a good reason, because it is not as easy to do something as well in an east wind and wet boots as before your own fire in your study.6
Sickert was sent to see Gilbert by the Pall Mall Budget in 1893, for which, as he related, he made a number of portrait illustrations. His drawing of Gilbert appeared in the magazine on 13 April 1893.7
When the exhibition of Echoes was held at the Leicester Galleries in May 1931, Sickert included an appendix in the catalogue in which he described the artists from whom he had taken designs. Of Gilbert he wrote:
He was best known for his illustrations of Shakespeare. It is probable he will be ultimately remembered by his smaller cuts in the London Journal and other periodicals, where he was master of romantic and melodramatic subjects, and could move more freely in ground that had not been stereotyped by the theatre. His pencil shone with equal facility in low-life, colonial subjects, and in dazzling saloons of the aristocracy.8
When Leicester Art Gallery purchased Sickert’s Echo, The Bart and the Bums,9 in 1931, Sickert wrote to them explaining something of this picture and the series in general. The letter further reveals his feelings about Gilbert, and his motivation in making the Echoes. After recalling his commission to draw Gilbert, Sickert wrote:
I little thought I should be the humble instrument of drawing public attention to the interest of a rigorous and ‘populacier’ composition by that great artist. The drawing illustrated a story in the London Journal, the literary merit of which story is not sufficient to attract permanent interest in the illustrations.
The design would have remained buried forever if I had not felt inspired to translate it into a painting. Claiming thereby the same liberty as Pope or Butcher, Lang or Schlegel claim with Homer, Virgil with Homer, Fitzgerald in the Omar Khayyam, &c. I confess also a desire to do a little propaganda by sending the younger painters to rifle the wealth of English sources of inspiration.
Thousands who will see this low-comedy design would not have seen it but for
John Gilbert who inv. et del.
Gorway who sculpst.
me who have had the temerity to trace in paint the admired monogram JG.10
The important collector John Blyth was an early owner of The Seducer. In his first thirty years of collecting, Blyth bought only the work of Scottish artists, but in the 1940s and 1950s he turned his attention to English art, in particular the Camden Town Group. He owned pictures by Spencer Gore, Harold Gilman and a total of twenty-four works by Sickert. Blyth played an active role at Kirkcaldy Art Gallery in Fife, having up to half his large collection on loan there at any one time as well as chairing the art committee. Following his death, 128 works from his collection were purchased for Kirkcaldy.11 Kirkcaldy Art Gallery never exhibited The Seducer and according to their records it appears to have remained in Blyth’s drawing room at Wilby House, Kirkcaldy.

Robert Upstone
May 2009


William Rothenstein, Since Fifty: Men and Memories, 1922–1938, London 1939, p.276.
Ethel Sands, letter to Nan Hudson, 1930; quoted in Wendy Baron, Miss Ethel Sands and her Circle, London 1977, p.184.
Regina Marler (ed.), Selected Letters of Vanessa Bell, London 1993, p.364.
T.W. Earp, ‘Richard Sickert: English Echoes’, Apollo, 13 June 1931; quoted in Matthew Sturgis, Walter Sickert: A Life, London 2005, p.576.
Osbert Sitwell (ed.), A Free House! or the Artist as Craftsman being the Writings of Walter Richard Sickert, London 1947, p.liii.
Ibid., pp.351–2 n.149.
Wendy Baron, Sickert: Paintings and Drawings, New Haven and London 2006, no.57.22; reproduced in Sickert: Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy, London 1992, fig.211.
Walter Sickert, ‘The Sources’, in English Echoes. A Series of Paintings by Richard Sickert, A.R.A., exhibition catalogue, Savile Gallery, London 1931.
Baron 2006, no.610.
Quoted in Hayward Gallery 1981, p.102.
See Richard Calvocoressi, ‘The Art of Modern Times’, in Saved for Scotland: Works of Art Acquired with the Help of the National Art Collections Fund, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh 1991, pp.19–20.

How to cite

Robert Upstone, ‘The Seducer c.1929–30 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,, accessed 24 January 2021.