Exhibition Archive

Walter Sickert at the Courtauld

25 October 2007 to 20 January 2008


drawing by Walter Sickert
My awful dad Walter Sickert c.1912
Organised to complement the exhibition Walter Sickert: The Camden Town Nudes this special display in our prints and drawings gallery focused on works on paper by Sickert in the Courtauld permanent collection. Although they differ in subject matter, ranging from landscapes to domestic interiors, the works share a sense of rapid and spontaneous execution through which the artist captures the essence and immediacy of his chosen subject. Many of the drawings functioned as stages in Sickert’s creative process, exploring different compositional arrangements and the effects of light and shade. Several of them, such as My Awful Dad and Hubby Seated, are studies which relate to finished oil paintings, others, like Bust Portrait of an Oriental Gentleman are independent works, in this case made for publication. A number of the etchings are transcriptions of ideas explored in his drawings and further demonstrate Sickert’s love of working on related themes in different media.

Sickert was a prolific draughtsman and placed great importance on drawing as a route to the expression of the reality of the modern world. He wanted to capture what he called “the gross material facts” of modern life by looking afresh at his subjects rather than relying on the conventions of art. Like his teacher James McNeil Whistler (1834-1903) Sickert believed that drawing should be the direct expression of our visual experience of the world. Although Sickert once declared that ‘anything’ could be a subject for art, he generally favoured unelevated subjects drawn from everyday life such as grey townscapes and working-class domestic interiors, which suited his realist vision of art. Sickert felt that the role of modern artists was to engage with the reality of the world that surrounds them rather than attempting to idealise it. His own art resonates with this sentiment, rather than embellishing his subjects he instead strives to express poignancy and beauty in even the most mundane scenes.