There is a fantastically sinister series of self-portraits at the start of Walter Sickert’s ‘engrossing’ new exhibition at Tate Britain, says Laura Cumming The Observer. Sickert (1860-1942) paints himself darkly in the shadows, “an eye aims at you like a target”; he looms menacingly behind a bust of a naked boxer; apparently blocking the path between a nude model and the exit. This is how Sickert wanted to be seen: as a “disturber, actor, threat, mockery”. His art is theatrical, “magnificent, even sensational”.
At the same time, influenced by Degas and Bonnard, he was determined to chronicle contemporary urban life – a subject he considered as worthy of any biblical episode or mythological set piece. His work evokes a “damp land of rented rooms, sickly streets and gas-lit bars”. This “superbly curated” exhibition – the first major retrospective of his work in London for three decades – allows us to see his entire career. It includes everything from his architectural images of northern French cities, to his then infamous nudes, to his extraordinary paintings from photos taken in the 1930s. For example, there is a “haunting” portrait of Edward VIII shortly before his abdication.
Sickert is “the Duke of Darkness,” Alastair Smart said in The Daily Telegraph. In his hands the healthiest scenes became shadowy; Even his paintings of architectural landmarks, such as a view of the Église Saint-Jacques in Dieppe, appear to have been painted at sunset. And his “devastating” Camden Town Murder The series was inspired by the real-life murder of a prostitute in the “then unhealthy” area of London to which he had just moved.
in a work L’Affaire de Camden Town, he paints a fully clothed man staring “menacingly” at a naked woman on an iron-framed bed. The interior is “narrow” and “dimly lit”, the brushwork “powerful”; You have an uneasy feeling that the scene is about to erupt in violence. These are the paintings that led some “crazy people” to believe that Sickert was Jack the Ripper. Though “difficult to look at,” the Camden paintings excel in a “frustrating” show that’s just too big for itself. With around 150 works, it’s a “rut”. Nor does it really explain Sickert’s great paradox: how “a purveyor of stark documentary realism” was so melodramatic and theatrical at the same time.
The exhibition emphasizes that Sickert was a very “uneven” painter, said Jackie Wullschläger in the FT. Still, he was seldom boring – and at best he could really dazzle. Little Point Hetherington at Bedford Music Hall, one of the many paintings of London theaters here, “bubbles with the nervous energy of performance”. In three views of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice (1895-96), he paints “like a jeweller”, capturing the “building’s crosses, spiers and mosaics, colored pink, emerald green or golden according to the time of day”. His largest painting dates from 1915 Brighton Pierrotsa depiction of a wartime seaside performance that “erupts in ecstatic, unreal chromatic harmony”.
In the past, critics have complained that Sickert is not goal-oriented enough. Today we forgive more: Born in Munich, raised in London, he combines Great Britain and Europe, modernism and English realism. “Hybrid, insecure, painting loosely and freely”, he is “our contemporary”.
https://www.theweek.co.uk/arts-life/culture/art/956733/walter-sickert-tate-britain-art-review Review: Walter Sickert at Tate Britain