Walter Richard Sickert A.R.A. (British, 1860-1942)
Woman in Red against Green. Mrs Neville signed 'Sickert.' (lower left) oil on canvas 40.6 x 50.8 cm. (16 x 20 in.) Painted in 1906
PROVENANCE: Frederick Mayor R. Hart J.W. Blyth Sale; Sotheby's, London, 20 April 1966, lot 51 With Roland, Browse and Delbanco, London Norman Brick With Duncan R. Miller Fine Arts, London Private Collection, California, U.S.A.
EXHIBITED: Leeds, Temple Newsam House, Life Work of Walter Richard Sickert, 1942, no.149 (where lent by Frederick Mayor) New York, Hirschl and Adler, Sickert, 1967, no.9 Adelaide, Art Gallery of South Australia, Walter Richard Sickert, 1968, no.26 (where lent by Roland, Browse and Delbanco) Sydney, David Jones' Art Gallery, Walter Richard Sickert, 1860-1942, no.25 London, Roland, Browse and Delbanco, Sickert to Sutherland, 1970, no.17
LITERATURE: Wendy Baron, Sickert, Phaidon Press, London, 1973, cat.no.226 Wendy Baron, Sickert, Paintings and Drawings, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2006, cat.no.260, p.317
It would be difficult to invent a more prosaic title for a painting than Woman in Red against Green. It is not the original title. Nonetheless, the bald description fulfils Sickert's dictum: 'Pictures, like streets and persons, have to have names to distinguish them' (The New Age, 28 July 1910, 'The Language of Art'). In fact, this painting is highly unusual in that we know exactly when and where it was painted, and can thus place it precisely within the development of Sickert's figure paintings after his return to London in 1904/5.
At Easter 1906 Sickert sent his mistress, the society beauty and talented amateur singer Elsie Swinton (Mrs George Swinton), a series of 14 postcards, each containing a cameo sketch in pen and ink, illustrating the paintings on which he was then working in his studio at 8 Fitzroy Street. They were all figure subjects, several developing the informal 'conversation groups' he had created on his visit to Venice from 1903-4. He worked with deep concentration, elaborating and refining the integration of figures and their domestic settings, to produce one of his most sustained and accomplished series of north London interiors. He inscribed each card, naming some of the models and detailing when he was engaged on each painting. From the inscriptions we learn that Jeanne and Hélène Daurmont (Belgian sisters whom he had recently met in Soho) modelled for him, sometimes alone, sometimes together, on Saturday afternoon, Easter Monday, Wednesday and Thursday of Easter week. His paintings of the Daurmont sisters are now in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (Jeanne, the Cigarette), Portsmouth City Museum (Belgian Cocottes), the Arts Council Collection (The Belgian Cocotte), the Museum of Fine Arts, Cleveland, Ohio (Easter Monday, Hélène Daurmont) and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Les Petites Belges). A 'new model', subsequently identified as Mrs Barrett, a dressmaker, modelled for him on Saturday morning, Easter Sunday and Thursday afternoon. One of the paintings Sickert sketched of Mrs Barrett, wearing a large straw hat, is still privately owned; the other is in the Courtauld Institute Gallery. His fourth model in this Easter 1906 series was Agnes Beerbohm who modelled for Sickert, wearing fancy dress, on Good Friday and Saturday (the painting is in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool) and on Sunday for a portrait head (painting untraced). Agnes Mary Beerbohm (18651948), elder sister of Max, began an affair with Sickert in 1895, her marriage to Ralph Neville having long since failed. The unaccompanied visits she made to Sickert's studio were noticed by the family of his first wife, Ellen. Their relationship contributed to the breakdown of Sickert's marriage to Ellen (the Sickerts separated in 1896 and divorced in 1899). As Mrs Neville, Agnes Beerbohm supported herself as a talented dress designer (perhaps she introduced Mrs Barrett to Sickert). After her estranged husband's death in 1917, Mrs Neville married Vesey Knox (18651921), barrister and Nationalist MP for Londonderry.
The cameo sketch which relates to Woman in Red against Green is inscribed 'Easter Wednesday. 3rd sitting'. The sketch roughly indicates a second figure seated in profile on the right who is omitted from the painting. The identification of the sitter as Mrs Neville was not suggested until 1971 (informally by Lillian Browse) and I published it as such in my 1973 and 2006 books on Sickert. This identification is certainly mistaken. The sitter does not resemble the fine-featured Agnes Beerbohm. She does resemble the Daurmont sister who modelled for The Belgian Cocotte (probably the more brazen Jeanne rather than the somewhat demure Hélène); she seems to be wearing the same brilliant red jacket. The cameo sketch includes the second sister, wearing outdoor dress and a straw boater. While there is no evidence that Mrs Neville modelled for Sickert on Wednesday, we do know from cameo sketches for Belgian Cocottes that the Daurmont sisters sat for him on that day. There is thus a strong case for rechristening this vivid painting with a more racy title. It relates back directly to Sickert's Venetian figure paintings of 1903-4, in which his prostitute models reclined on beds or on sofas, rested or gossiped together. It looks forward to the more elaborated Camden Town interiors of the next eight years.
We are grateful to Wendy Baron for her assistance in cataloguing this lot and compiling the catalogue entry.