This oil sketch is painted on a commercially prepared canvas purchased from the artists’ colourmen L. Cornelissen & Son. The linen cloth has very coarse and open plain weave and has been prepared with a little glue size and a dense opaque white primer composed of lead white mixed with chalk and zinc white. The primer extends to the cut edges and retains the strong weave texture. The canvas appears to have been re-stretched to improve the tension, possibly by the artist, but more likely later.
Sickert painted an apparently simple linear drawing onto the white ground using thinned black oil paint and a stiff brush. It has some of the consistency of ink but is much thicker and was more viscous when wet. There is no sign of any initial pencil drawing and this would be inconsistent with the confidence and fluidity of the caricature. The black drawing is highly stylised and spontaneous but is reworked in a few areas, such as the tablecloth, the legs and the feet of the figures. On closer examination it appears to have a more tentative and leaner line underneath which is visible in many areas. These black lines are drier and only impact on the canvas-weave tops, perhaps by keeping the paint on the brush without solvent. This is probably Sickert’s first stage of drawing. In a later series of lectures he delivered at the Margate School of Art he outlined the importance of these early stages of working:
When you are drawing you must be clear that you do three things and the first thing you must do is to get your tentative line. The first thing you must remember about your tentative line is that it is not a thing that has to be done and then washed out. That is the English view of everything. People always apologise for such things ... You must leave your tentative line and you must leave it – it must be there when you have finished.1
The artist has blocked in between the lines with patches of paint to depict areas of light and shade and to indicate the local colour. There is a wide range of colours, though none particularly strong: cool pink, green, pale blue, dull orange, dull yellows, greys, browns and darker pinks. The background yellow has two separate applications of different tones, indicating that there may have been two separate stages of painting, although drying time may not have been necessary, except for the yellow, since in general the paint was applied so sparingly. The coloured paint is applied by brush, prepared on a palette with little subsequent dwelling or mixing on the canvas. The application leaves some soft impasto. Sickert may have added more medium or solvent to his paint to improve its flow and the oil ground is not particularly absorbent. Like the black paint, areas of colour on the floor, for example, are applied dryly across the canvas texture creating a broken line. The drawn black lines remain visible to dominate the composition, presumably in imitation of the original work by John Gilbert, and some are applied on top of later paint. There is a thin overall glossy varnish which has been crudely brushed on, leaving runs on the bottom tacking edge; it is probably not original.
How to cite
Stephen Hackney, 'Technique and Condition', November 2004, in 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, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/camden-town-group/walter-richard-sickert-the-seducer-r1133435, accessed 24 January 2021.