Pallant House Gallery is delighted to present its major summer exhibition, Sickert in Dieppe, which explores how the picturesque French seaside town of Dieppe proved to be such a formative setting for British painter Walter Sicken (1860 - 1942). The exhibition demonstrates the artist's vivid interest in everyday life in Dieppe, to which he was a regular visitor for over four decades and a permanent resident from 1898 -1905. Over 80 paintings, prints, preparatory drawings, etchings, and archival materials show Sickert's breadth of subject matter - the town's architecture, harbour and fishing quarter, shops, cafe culture and inhabitants - whilst charting the development of his pictorial technique during this period.
From the middle of the 1800s to the outbreak of the First World War Dieppe was a hugely fashionable seaside resort that attracted many British artists and writers; Oscar Wilde, Aubrey Beardsley, Max Beerbohm and Charles Conder, to name a few. 'L'Hotel Royal, Dieppe' (1894) was produced during this time, and when Sickert moved to the town permanently in 1899, he began to depict public holidays and celebrations in his paintings, demonstrating a growing interest in leisure and tourism, a theme explored in the exhibition.
Whilst the influence of James Abbott McNeill Whistler, to whom Sickert was an apprentice, was undeniable in his earliest paintings, it was Sickert's friendship with Edgar Degas in Dieppe during the summer of 1885 which was the catalyst for major changes in his work. He broadened his range of subject matter to include scenes of popular entertainment and was encouraged by Degas to emphasise the everyday realism of his subjects. His paintings became more representational, featuring strongly delineated architectural patterns. This transition is demonstrated in the exhibition by a series of shop fronts culminating in 'The Laundry Shop' (1885), the first of Sickert's paintings to be devebped from squared-up drawings and related etchings.
Sickert produced a more comprehensive account of Dieppe's architecture than any of his contemporaries, leading to him being described by his friend, the painter Jacques-Emile Blanche, as the 'Canaletto of Dieppe'. It was Sickert's careful interrogation of architecture that was so remarkable. The repetition of architectural subjects led to him being aligned with the Impressionists, even though he continued to paint from working drawings in his studio - a method contrary to the principles of the Impressionist method of painting 'en plein air'.
The exhibition includes groups of related drawings and paintings of two key motifs which Sickert used to explore different painting techniques. Firstly depictions of the church of St. Jacques viewed from the West Front (1899 - 1902) and secondly two series of the church's south portal viewed from the Rue Pecquet (1900 and then again 1906 - 1910) - reminiscent of an earlier series of paintings of Rouen Cathedral by Claude Monet, they demonstrate a move towards an Impressionistic style and handling of colour. Through his representation of the other major church of Dieppe. St. Remy. (1900 and then again 1910 to 1914), Sickert also explored the changing cultural life of Cieppe set against this ancient Gothic architecture.
Sickert immersed himself in the native community of the fisherman's quarter east of Dieppe harbour known as Le Pollet. Learning to speak the ancient dialect of the community and settling with a fisherman's wife called Augustine Villain in nearby Neuville, he evoked the everyday struggles of the people of Dieppe, painting scenes of the working harbour and its inhabitants. One of these works, a large-scale painting entitled 'The Blind Sea Captain' (1914), shows an elderly sea captain and his wife beside the harbour. This is the first time that this previously unknown painting, discovered in a private collection in 2011, will be shown publicaly since it was exhibited in Bradford in 1930.
It was perhaps in his landscapes of Dieppe that Sickert developed some of his most significant painting techniques, such as in 'Obelisk' (1914), a depiction of a 16th century war monument set on rising ground near Arques-la-Bataille, close to the village of Envermeu where he settled with his new wife Christine Angus in 1912. This and other rural subjects allowed Sickert to experiment with a more varied palette, simplifying the landscape to patches of pure colour.
The First World War was a watershed in the artist's engagement with Dieppe. After leaving France in autumn 1914, he was unable to return to France until 1919, when he resumed the landscapes he had started before the war, working steadily on these subjects until Christine's death in 1920. After this he made few rural landscapes, the exception being the composition 'Dieppe Races', 1920-26, which will be included in the exhibition.
Sickert's earliest known painting of a female nude posed on an iron bedstead was painted in Dieppe around 1904. Between 1921 and 1924 he made a significant group of paintings set in his studio on the Rue Aguado that expanded upon the atmospheric conversation pieces he made in and around Camden Town between 1907 and 1913. The exhibition will feature 'L'Armoire a Glace', (1924) and the magnificent portrait of Victor Lecourt, proprietor of the restaurant Clos Normand, who Sickert described as the 'great bear'.
Sickert's final years in Dieppe following the death of Christine proved to be among the most imaginative and productive of his career. He revisited old Dieppe themes centring on popular entertainment including a painting of a circus performer and pictures of the cabaret restaurant Vernet's. He continued working on a series based upon gamblers at the casino first begun in the summer of 1920.
When Sickert returned to London in 1922 he continued to work on the figure paintings he started in Dieppe. The exhibition will include paintings such as 'The System' (1924-26), thought to have been created from working drawings and sketches in his studio in Fitzroy Street, in which the glamour and excitement of the gambling rooms gave way to a subdued and downbeat atmosphere.
Sickert in Dieppe includes loans of rarely seen works from private collections, as well as loans from public collections including Tate, Manchester City Gallery, Leeds Museums and Galleries, Birmingham Museums and the Musee des Beaux-Arts de Rouen. Arranged over five rooms in the contemporary wing of Pallant House Gallery, this is the first time in forty years that an exhibition has focused on Sickert's engagement with Dieppe, and follows an exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery in 2009 which explored the artist's much more focused periods of study in Venice.