The gallery already holds a special place for the artist with 349 of his drawings in their collection, the largest in the world. Described as one of Britain’s most important painters, Walter Richard Sickert was born in Germany in 1860 before moving to Britain at a young age. He learned his craft from some of the most prominent figures in art history, including James McNeil Whistler and Edgar Degas. The influence of both can be sensed in Sickert’s works, from the quick expressive drawings to moody depictions of shop fronts.
Sickert’s reputation is that of an important figure in the transition between historical art movements, his work epitomising the move from Post-Impressionism towards Modernism. He was a member of, and a key influence on the group of artists that formed the Camden Town Group. His name is also often seen in relation to speculations about the identity of Jack the Ripper – an accusation that’s untrue but also one that Sickert himself was keen to exploit for publicity. His sombre nudes and darkly hued architectural paintings only add to the gloomy public image.
Sickert: A Life in Art is a fantastic chance to experience around 100 of the artist’s paintings, which alongside the drawings, displays the full breadth of his style and subject choices. Indeed, an entire room is dedicated to Sickert’s tiny drawings alongside a video in which the senior paper conservator of National Museums Liverpool explains the importance of drawing to Sickert’s final compositions. It’s always a joy to be able to experience the initial energy of an artist’s skilful drawings and a particularly fascinating insight into Sickert’s preparatory process.
Many of the paintings on display show an unfiltered vision of life at the time, with London’s rowdy music halls and foggy colour palette. Thanks to NML’s impressive collection, some of the works are brought to life with additional artefacts and sound elements, making the exhibition an engaging experience for both older and younger viewers.
Last but not least, the exhibition also spotlights the later, perhaps most experimental body of Sickert’s work, which he produced while married to the artist Thérèse Lessore. Lessore was a successful artist in her own right, but as is often the case, her output was overshadowed by her husband. Lessore’s contribution is clearly highlighted in the show, with her pastel-coloured paintings displayed alongside Sickert’s.
Sickert: A Life in Art is a brilliant opportunity to see not only very beautiful paintings but the work of an uncompromising draughtsman, whose raw artistic perspective provides a glimpse of Victorian-era life.