Walter Sickert ★★★★★ Tate Britain | Apr 28 - Sep 18, 2022


Walter Sickert (1860-1942) is an artist whose notoriety often overshadows his art. Patricia Cornwell's 2002 book which proposes that Sickert was, in fact, Jack the Ripper has led to endless speculation about the artist's psychology, but this beautifully curated exhibition seeks to bring the focus back to the art. With more than 150 works from over 70 public and private collections, this is a comprehensive look at the development, influences, and inspirations of Sickert's artistic output. The eight galleries start by presenting his self-portraits in which he often adopts other personae and then reflect upon the influence that Whistler and Degas had on his methods and style. The show then traces his fascination with the music hall and displays pieces depicting urban environments which almost seem like stage sets. The controversial nudes and The Camden Town Murder series lead into his narrative pieces and his later use of press cuttings as a source to create studies of celebrities. The unifying theme of much of the work seems to be a fascination with performance. Sickert presents himself and others in various guises and even when there is an apparently obvious narrative, one is left questioning what might be behind the façade of appearances and apparent meaning. The painting, Ennui (c.1914), may simply represent a claustrophobic domestic reality, but the bell jar in the background containing stuffed birds gives a more sinister tone to this set piece. All in all, this is a first class retrospective that, while spotlighting Sickert's mastery of his craft, offers an intriguing opportunity to ponder the enigma of his inspiration.

Rated: ★★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Image: Walter Richard Sickert Brighton Pierrots 1915. Tate

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