A first retrospective in France of Walter Sickert’s modern and provocative painting, at the Petit Palais

The English painter Walter Sickert is not very present in the French collections. The Petit Palais in Paris offers the first major retrospective in France of an artist who has spent a lot of time on this side of the Channel. His frequentation of French artists allowed him to pave the way for figurative modernity in his country where he regularly caused scandal.

The exhibition at the Petit Palais, organized with Tate Britain where it was presented between April and September 2022, opens with self-portraits, which reflect the fleeting and changing side of Walter Sickert (1860-1942): between the young seducer on a drawing from 1882 (he was then 22 years old) and the old man bent over his soup in 1927, assumes all the guises.

Walter Sickert is of different origins, born in Munich to a Danish artist father and an Anglo-Irish mother who grew up in Dieppe, France. He grew up in England. This journey and a short acting career left him a taste for change, disguise or variations in painting techniques, as well as an undeniable interest in the world of entertainment.

Walter Richard Sickert,

His academic training was short-lived; it was his work with James Whistler (1834-1903) that was significant. With the great American painter residing in England, he learned engraving, creating both street scenes taken from life, and studying compositions that testify to his virtuosity. The two artists paint the same kind of front views of Dieppe’s stores together, declining similar tones, but Sickert begins to introduce more vivid colors.

He met Edgar Degas who became his friend and whose influence made itself felt. In the evening, he runs from the cabaret to the theater and begins to paint brilliant music-hall scenes, which upset the good English society, for which cabarets are places of debauchery. At the end of the 1880s he devoted himself extensively to this subject, considered scandalous.

For him the show is often in the hall, capturing the animation on the steps, the charm of the audience. He creates complex compositions, playing with large mirrors that give a staggered view of the stage. He adopts unexpected shots, aiming at the curves of the balconies from a low angle, almost completely hiding a conductor behind a balustrade. He plays with colors and lights, those of the spotlights on stage or those of an end-of-day sky at an open-air Pierrots show in Brighton.

Walter Richard Sickert,

In the years 1890-1900 Walter Sickert made several stays in Venice, Paris, and above all in Dieppe where he settled between 1898 and 1905. He then painted landscapes, mainly urban, where small figures of passers-by are inscribed. In Dieppe, he varies the light on the church of Saint-Jacques, like Monet, of which Cathedrals of Rouen. L’Royal Dieppe hotels takes on unreal shades. In Venice he multiplies the views of the Basilica of San Marco, daring to zoom obliquely on the architectural details.

The artist did not paint much Paris, but in London the lonely character lost in a street at night and the lighting of the scene (Street of Maple1916), or in Dieppe the lights of a café seen from the street (night of love, 1920) are incredibly reminiscent of the atmospheres of the American Edward Hopper.

Another object of scandal in England, the nudes, to which Sickert devoted himself in the early years of the new century: following Pierre Bonnard or Degas in the invention of the modern nude, he de-idealized the bodies lying in modest rooms, in common postures, the warps across the frame. He in turn paved the way for contemporary British figurative painting, from Francis Bacon to Lucian Freud.

Walter Richard Sickert, The Reclining Venetian, 1903-1904, Rouen, Museum of Fine Arts (© C. Lancien, C. Loisel / Réunion des Musées Métropolitains Rouen Normandie)

And then, in the last years of his life, from 1914, a new provocation, the artist radically changed his way of working. He begins to paint in large format from photographs of which he transfers the enlarged lines onto the canvas, or by projecting the image directly onto the canvas with a lantern. These works are drawn from the press, from cinema, from the world of entertainment. To the black and white photos he adds sometimes surprising colors, such as the pink and green of his Variation on Peggy (1934-1935), portrait of the actress Peggy Ashcroft. Until the end, he will have shown an incredible modernity. He will be followed this time by Andy Warhol or Gerhard Richter.

Walter Sickert, painting and transgression
Small palace
Avenue Winston-Churchill, 75008 Paris
From Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 to 18:00 (closed on Mondays), Friday and Saturday until 19:00.
€ 15 / € 13
From 14 October 2022 to 29 January 2023

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