Walter Richard Sickert A.R.A. (British, 1860-1942)
A Street in Dieppe oil on canvas 60 x 42 cm. (23 1/2 x 16 1/2 in.) Painted circa 1906
PROVENANCE: Brandon Davies With Arthur Tooth & Sons, London, 1934 Mrs Gilbert Russell With Roland, Browse & Delbanco, 1968
LITERATURE: Wendy Baron, Sickert, Paintings and Drawings, Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 2006, cat.no.305.1, p.345 (ill.b&w)
Dieppe was Sickert's second home. Sickert family ties with the French port were deep, extensive and happy: their mother had grown up there; their father, a Danish-born painter and illustrator, had worked there before and after his marriage; having settled in England in 1868, the elder Sickerts, spent many family holidays with their growing brood of children in Dieppe; when Walter married Ellen Cobden in 1885 the couple rounded off their European honeymoon tour by renting a house in Dieppe. Thereafter Walter Sickert spent nearly every summer in Dieppe until 1898 when he abandoned London to make Dieppe his permanent home until 1905. From 1906, until war intervened, Dieppe again became his summer retreat. In 1919 Sickert and his second wife Christine moved back to a village outside Dieppe. Christine died there in October 1920, whereupon Sickert moved back to Dieppe. Sad and lonely, he returned to London in 1922, never again to live and work in Dieppe.
Whatever special sentimental claims Dieppe exercised upon the Sickert family, appreciation of the charms of this picturesque Normandy port was shared by large numbers of their contemporaries. Now neglected by the French, and treated by most English visitors as little more than a convenient point of entry into France, Dieppe, with its invigorating channel-coast climate was, from the mid-nineteenth century until the disruption of the first world war, one of the most fashionable resorts in France. Elegant hotels and a thriving Casino catered for fashionable society. Huddled between the sea and the penetrating tongue of the narrow-mouthed harbour, with its bustling arcaded quay-side and its jumbled architecture articulated by the impressive churches of St. Jacques and St. Rémy, the town, appealed to French and English artists alike. The congenial café life welcomed writers as well as painters to this town, easily accessible via the Channel packet from England and by train from Paris. A roll-call of visitors to Dieppe reads like a social and cultural Who's Who of the period. Monet, Camille Pissarro, Renoir, Degas, Helleu, Beardsley, Whistler and Conder, as well as many young painters from Sickert's Camden Town circles, frequently painted Dieppe. But it was Sickert whom the French painter and writer Jacques-Emile Blanche was to nominate as the Canaletto of Dieppe.
Sickert's landscapes and townscapes of Dieppe and its environs account for the major part of his lifetime achievement. He explored its churches, its arcaded waterfront, its main square dominated by the statue of Admiral Duquesne, its cafés, and its little shop fronts, returning again and again to the same subjects until he had exhausted their possibilities. The present painting was not done during the years when Sickert lived permanently in Dieppe (1898-1905). It was probably a product of his summer stay there in 1906, when he revisited his former haunts refreshed by his rest from landscape painting and exhilarated by recent developments in his technique and handling.
In 1906 Sickert developed a particular penchant for antique or junk shops, perhaps because he was at this time trying to earn money as a scout for his friend, the artist William Rothenstein, then working for the Carfax Gallery in London. Sickert sent Rothenstein all sorts of paintings and drawings he had found in French junk shops, believing them to be the work of nineteenth-century artists including Delacroix, Millet, Daumier and Daubigny. His connoisseurship does not seem to have matched his enthusiasm: Rothenstein failed to sell any of Sickert's 'finds'. However, exploring junk shops to find bargains presumably led Sickert to explore the subject on canvas, as a variation on the well-tested shop-front theme. Four paintings are known of the display of furniture, pottery and framed pictures outside the junk shop on the corner of rue Ste Catherine next to St Jacques; three paintings are known of the shop studied in the present painting.
The location of this corner shop is almost certainly on the rue St Rémy, the road which runs beside the north flank of the church to meet rue de Sygogne (where Ellen and Walter Sickert had rented a house on their honeymoon in 1885). The present painting is close to a coloured chalk drawing which, unlike the two other paintings of this motif, includes the elegant, dandified figure of a man, with straw boater and cane, examining the table on the pavement beneath an awning. It is the largest of the three painted versions. There is something almost playful about the crisp, abbreviated notation of the browsing customer in his lilac suit; even more daring is the figure to the right suggested by nothing more than sky blue scrubs of colour (which echo the rectangle of sky blue of the road sign above). The colours of this version principally lilac, sky blue, creamy ochres, yellow and turquoise green and of a smaller version without the figures (Baron 305.2) which omits the sky blue in favour of sweet pale pink are immediately attractive. The sun is shining. Sickert's mood that summer was lifted by the admiration and high spirits of his young house-guests, Spencer Gore and Herbert Wellington. The light-hearted audacity of this painting reflects his new-found optimism.
We are grateful to Wendy Baron for compiling this catalogue entry.