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The nude paintings of Walter sickert

oil painting of. A self-portrait painted by walter sickert.

Left, Walter Sickert, self-portrait. c. 1896 Sickert was born May 31 1860, son of Oswald Sickert, himself a Danish painter, and his mother Elinor. He spent the first seven years of his life growing up in Denmark. Walter Sickert was of major importance to the English art scene, though in his early years he divided his time between France and England. He had the good fortune to be learning his “craft” at a time when French Impressionism was establishing itself and would be the precursor to the “Modern art Movement”. He was a friend of the likes of Whistler and the French artist Degas (famous for his ballet studies and bathing nudes).

painting of a semi-nude by artist walter sickert.

Many of Sickert’s paintings would have echoes of Dagas work. Sickert would paint many nudes in his lifetime, most of women in sordid situations and where a certain ambiguity exists within his paintings. This aspect would lead many people to lay all kinds speculation against him – Reading all kinds of messages into the works. The main one being that (according to the novelist Patricia Cornwall) that he was “Jack the Ripper” the perpetrator of the Whitechaple murders in the autumn of 1888. Sickert also drew inspiration from the music hall scene, as he was himself a frequent visitor to many of these venues and a number of memorable paintings were produced. In fact, these paintings, both the nudes of low life and those of the music hall, give a rude insight into life as lived by the ordinary and poor folk at the turn of the 19th centaury. There is often in his paintings a very taught sexual tension. The painting illustrated above, titled the “Large Hat” c. 1904, is one of his first paintings of a woman semi-nude. As can be seen, this painting depicts unashamed sexual exhibitionism. nude painting of woman on a bed by artist walter sickert

The next painting illustrated left, “The Rose Shoe” painted c. 1904-05, is an attempt to develop his nude painting. I like this painting because even today, a span of over a 100 years, to me it looks Modern. The next painting, below, “The Iron Bedstead” c. 1908, Sickert has again posed the model on an iron bed. Here the paint is used in a thick impasto (neat, rather than thinned down). The lighting in the painting would come to typify his approach to nudes in a room. Again, the woman is posed with a certain ambiguity. What is being suggested here? Is the viewer part of the picture? In other words, are we the male in the room?

painting by walter sickert of a nude, lying on a bed


It wasn’t until 1908 that Sickert began work on a series of paintings centred on a murder that happened in Camden Town – the murder of Emily Dimmock, in 1907 (nineteen years after the Ripper murders). Emily Dimmock, a prostitute, was found murdered. Lying naked on a bed in her lodgings, her throat had been slit. The method of killing and the situation (a prostitute found murdered on her own bed) was strickingly similar to the Whitechaple murders of 1888 which saw a total of five prostitutes murdered in the space of two months. These later became known as "Jack the Ripper murders". Unlike in those murders, in the Emily Dimmock murder, an arrest was made for this murder, Robert Wood, an art dealer, but he was acquitted of the murder.

painting of a female nude by artist walter sickertLeft. This painting: “L’Affaire de Camden Town” painted 1909. It was based on newspaper headlines. But Sickert hasn’t used reports of the murder to put this painting together. For example, Emily Dimmock was found laying face down when discovered. Once again the viewer is left in ambiguity as to what precisely is going on in this painting, what with the male standing over this nude woman, chamber pot clearly visible under the bed.

painting by walter sickert of a couple in a bedroom
Illustration right.
This final painting: “Dawn, Camden Town,” c. 1909. Though Sickert first titled it: “Summer in Naples”. A perverse title given its dark, sordid and ambiguous meaning. Again we are struggling to guess what is happening within this painting. What is the relationship between the couple? One thing is quite clear, there is a degree of tension in existence. The male looks as though he is weighed down by some burden. But unlike the other painting, here the roles are reversed: the woman is the dominant figure. If one gets the chance, do see some of Sickert’s paintings. You will be fascinated by the way he uses paint. Rather like Lucian Freud, he makes the paint work for him. Again note in the illustrations how the artists lights his paintings, almost theatrical. There are numerous books written on Sickert, and he’s an artist worth reading up. He was one of the founders of the New English Art club that was set-up to counter the influence of Paris, which at that time dominated the world art scene. Sickert moved to Bathampton near the city of Bath and where he died on January 22nd 1942.

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