Walter Sickert – first major retrospective in 60 years includes music hall works

Walter Richard Sickert
Brighton Pierrots (1915)
Tate collection

At Tate Britain until September 18, there’s a rare chance to see collected works of English painter Walter Sickert in the first major retrospective of his work for over 60 years. Those interested in music hall will definitely not want to miss it.

Walter Sickert is recognised as one of the most important artists of the 20th century, having helped shape modern British art as we know it. With ties to renowned painters from James Abbott McNeill Whistler to Edgar Degas, he strengthened the artistic connections between Britain and France and continues to influence contemporary painters to this very day.

The first major retrospective of Sickert at Tate in over 60 years, this exhibition explores how he had an often radical, distinctive approach to setting and subject matter. From working off detailed sketches to taking inspiration from news photography, these were the tools he used to depict his vision of everyday life.

A former actor, he had a flair and fascination for all things theatrical, including performers in music halls crafted on canvas, and nude portraits staged in intimate, domestic settings. His imagination was also fuelled by current events including the rise of celebrity culture, and he used this to create compelling narratives.

Much like the man, his art was complex. Creative and colourful, his body of work was ever-changing and can be interpreted in different ways. His own self-portraits, for example, showcase how he evolved throughout his career – from his beginnings as an actor and artistic apprentice, to becoming one of the most gifted and influential artists of his time.

Room Three sounds of particular interest to those with theatre on their minds, as the catalogue to the exhibition says:

“Initially inspired by Degas’s paintings of Parisian café-concerts, Sickert’s music hall paintings catapulted his career to new heights. From a young age he was described as ‘stage-struck’ and acted professionally before becoming an artist. Sickert visited music halls almost every night and made sketches that not only captured the effects of light and movement onstage, but also the people watching in the audience. His subsequent paintings adopted unusual viewpoints while playing with colour, expressing the vibrancy of the performative atmosphere. However, critics described music halls as ‘working-class entertainments’, perceiving popular culture as an inappropriate subject for fine art.

Music halls were popular entertainment venues in the 19th and early-20th centuries. Sickert’s paintings of London, but also Paris and Dieppe, trace their development and demise – from nightly live performances to hosting the first cinematic screenings in Britain. The cinema as well as radio and music recordings became popular, leading to a decline in music hall audiences. Yet, Sickert never lost his interest in theatrical subjects and later turned his attention to other forms of popular entertainment.”

On selected Wednesdays and Fridays at 1.00pm, you can add to your enjoyment with a pre-show talk, lasting 60 minutes, details of which you can find here

For more information, and to book tickets, click here


For anyone who might want a bit of an introduction to Sickert’s work, here are a couple of interesting video courtesy of YouTube posters

A review of the Tate Britain exhibition
From a small exhibition last year entitled THE THEATRE OF LIFE

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