Detail from The Canal, Amsterdam, 1889, James McNeill Whistler, The Hunterian, University of Glasgow


Walter Richard Sickert

Nationality: British
Date of birth: 31 May 1860
Place of birth: Munich
Date of death: 22 January 1942
Category: writer, art


Oswald Adalbert Sickert (b. ca 1828), an artist and musician, and Eleanor ('Ellen') Louisa Moravia, his wife (b. ca 1831 - d. 1922), were born in Germany (Oswald became a naturalised British subject). Their children included Walter Richard (b. 1860), Robert (b. 1861), Bernhard (b. 1862), Helena (b. 1864), Oswald Valentine (b. ca 1871) and Leanhard (b. ca 1873). In 1881 they were all, except for W. R. Sickert, living at 12 Pembroke Gardens in London.

Walter Richard Sickert, artist and writer on art, came to live in Britain in 1868. He married Ellen Cobden on 10 June 1885 but they were divorced in 1899.


Sickert met Whistler in 1879 when he was a student at the Slade School of Art. He left there in 1882 to become Whistler's pupil and studio assistant throughout the 1880s. In January 1884, Sickert visited St Ives, Cornwall, with Whistler and Menpes, and in September 1885, Whistler stayed with Sickert and his wife at the Maison Goude, 21 rue de Sygogne, Dieppe, where they painted together.

Whistler and Sickert often worked from the same model, for example, Théodore Duret, Laura Barr and Stephen Manuel. Sickert commissioned Whistler to paint portraits of both himself (Portrait of Walter Sickert y349, Sketch Portrait of Walter Sickert y350, Portrait Sketch of Walter Sickert y351) and his wife (see Arrangement in Violet and Pink: Mrs Walter Sickert y337, Green and Violet: Portrait of Mrs Walter Sickert y338), and Whistler made a lithograph of Sickert in 1895 showing him seated (Lady in an armchair [91]). A drawing in Chicago which was said to be of Sickert is in fact of Pollitt (see H. C. Pollitt m1454).

The Sickerts owned several oils (A White Note y044, A Portrait: Maud y186, Portrait of H. R. Eldon (3) y245, Harmony in Black, No. 10 y357), watercolours (Resting in Bed m0901, Milly Finch m0907, Penthouse of the public house in St Ives, Cornwall m0921, Nocturne m0943, Flower market: Dieppe m1026) and pastels (Studies of poppies m1109).

Sickert was a member of The Arts Club (of which Whistler was also an occasional member) from 1888-93.

In May 1889, Sickert rather inefficiently organised an exhibition at the College for Working Men and Women in London, where Whistler exhibited shop-fronts and some major portraits. It had poor publicity and no catalogue.

On 12 October 1896, Sickert failed to apologise to Whistler for associating with Sir William Eden and they became estranged. Whistler then took sides with Joseph Pennell against Sickert when Pennell successfully brought a libel action against Sickert in 1897 for an article he wrote in the Saturday Review, which argued that lithographs drawn on lithographic paper and transferred to the lithographic stone mislead 'the purchaser on the vital point of commercial value'. During Whistler's lawsuit with Eden, Sickert was seen to associate with the baronet and this marked the real end of their association.

Sickert for his part had grown independent of Whistler, and was able to view his master with both affection and at times devastating clarity of judgment. Sickert probably understood Whistler's aims and achievements more than any other artist, and was able to develop from it his own powerful vision.

In later years, Sickert, who had as little respect for art historians as Whistler, was rather free with his authentications of paintings and drawings by Whistler. Sickert and Pennell were two of the artists who admired Whistler most and knew him best, but either through a lack of judgement, scrupulousness, or, in Sickert's case, from sheer devilment, authentications by them are by no means reliable.


UK census 1881; Walkley, Giles, Artists' houses in London 1764-1914, Aldershot, 1994 ; Bénézit, E., Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, 8 vols, Paris, 1956-61; Sitwell, Osbert (ed.), A Free House! or The Artist as Craftsman, being the Writings of Walter Richard Sickert, London, 1947 ; Robins, Anna Gruetzner, 'Degas and Sickert: Notes on their Friendship', The Burlington Magazine, vol. 103, March 1988, pp. 225-29 .