Sickert first approached the subject of the nude within an interior in 1902, while working in Neuville and Venice. However, it was not until his return to London in 1905 that this subject became the central focus of his painting, remaining so for the next eight years. Sickert’s paintings from this period occupy an important place in the history of the female nude. His depiction of realistic women in dimly lit, unromantic domestic settings, was highly distinctive and challenged established modes of representation.
The details of this work indicate that it was painted at 8 Fitzroy Square, Camden Town. These were the first rooms Sickert had taken after his return from France and had previously been the home of Sickert’s teacher, James McNeill Whistler. Sickert’s sympathies with the artistic tradition of France are made explicit in his choice of subject and title. La Coiffure refers to a woman combing her hair, and is the subject of works by Picasso, Matisse and Degas. Sickert’s treatment of this subject, however, is wholly unique.
Paintings from this period see Sickert working with a new freedom. The surface of this painting exhibits a more expressive handling of the paint and reveals the process of layering and scraping away, which has left some areas of paint thick and solid, and others translucent, barely covering the surface of the canvas. The wonderful sense of light that is created in this work reflects a marked development from Sickert’s earlier nudes. The deep red of the carpet, the highlighted bed cover and, in the background, the snatches of colour describing various objects on the table all lend themselves to a complete expression of depth and form.
The everyday detail of the scene takes prominence and the painting is firmly rooted within an honest realism that characterises all of Sickert’s work.
André Gide Leicester Galleries, London, 1952 Count Manassei F.B. Hart Jackson Thomas Agnew & Sons, London Mr Herbert, 1960 Private Collection, UK
Paris, Galerie Cardo, Walter R. Sickert, 15 November–6 December 1930, cat no.56, exhibited as Nu London, Thomas Agnew & Sons, Sickert: Centenary Exhibition of Pictures from Private Collections, 14 March–14 April 1960, cat no.74
François Fosca, Walter Richard Sickert, L’Amour de l’Art, November 1930, p443 illus b/w Wendy Baron, Sickert, Phaidon, London, 1973, cat no.210, fig 143 illus b/w Wendy Baron and Richard Shone, Sickert Paintings, Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 1992, p164, fig 126 illus b/w Wendy Baron, Sickert, Paintings and Drawings, Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 2006, pp56, 308–309, cat no.245.1, illus b/w
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