Jerwood Foundation

Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942)

Portrait of an Afghan Gentleman, circa 1895

  • Details

    Out of Copyright, signed ‘Sickert’ (lower centre left)

  • Medium

    oil on cnavas laid on board

  • Dimensions

    13 x 9 1/2 in. (33 x 24cm.)

  • Provenance

    Purchased at Sotheby's London

  • Exhibited

    London, New English Art Club, Winter, 1895, no. 24.

  • Literature

    Truth, 6 December 1895.
    The Morning Post, 11 November 1895.
    W. Baron, Sickert , London, 1973, p. 306, under the note to no. 52.
    W. Baron, Sickert, Paintings and Drawings, London, 2006, p. 196, no. 72, illustrated.
    Collection Catalogue, Jerwood Collection, London 2012 p.34.

  • On Display

    Jerwood Gallery, Hastings, Room 4

This enigmatic portrait was first exhibited at the New English Art Club’s 1895 winter exhibition. It was one of the exhibited works that particularly caught the attention of the press at the time. In Truth, 6 December 1895, a journalist commented ‘Mr Walter Sickert’s Portrait of an Afghan Gentleman is tantalisingly anonymous. Is he a Yogi, one wonders or one of the Mahatmas..?’
Sickert was very interested in theatre, having started his career as an actor. Perhaps this is why he was drawn to such interesting characters in his portraiture. Sickert’s Portrait of an Afghan Gentleman is particularly captivating when viewed ‘in the flesh’. The loose painterly style gives a feeling of movement and life to the work, and the eyes of the unknown sitter appear to follow you as you study him.
 

Born in Munich, Sickert’s family moved to England in 1868. Sickert began a brief career as an actor (1878-81) before attending the Slade School (1881-1882). He met Whistler in 1879 and became his assistant and pupil when he left the Slade. In 1883 Sickert travelled to Paris where he met Degas and also had the opportunity to come into contact with other major European artistic figures, including Monet, Pissarro, Gauguin, Signac and Bonnard. His first solo show was held at Dowdeswell’s Gallery in London (1996) and a year later he joined the New English Art Club. Together with a group of artists, that included Philip Wilson Steer, Sickert staged the London Impressionists exhibition at the Goupil Gallery (1889).

In the early 1890s he spent his summers in Dieppe and visited Venice for the first time in 1895. Much of Sickert’s subject matter of this time was dominated by architectural views, although he continued to paint portraits and figure compositions. He moved back to London in 1905 and became a key figure of the British art scene: as leader of the Fitzroy Group (1907); founder member of Allied Artists’ Association (1908); central figure of the Camden Town Group (1911); and member of the London Group (1913). Around this time, Sickert painted a series of works in response to the Camden Town murder of 1907, which were the subject of the Courtauld Gallery’s 2007 exhibition, Walter Sickert: The Camden Town Nudes.

His work was exhibited widely during his lifetime and he was elected RA in 1934, although he resigned a year later in defence of Jacob Epstein. Sickert constantly developed artistic theories and techniques throughout his career, demonstrated in his painting, etching, critical writing and teaching. He was an eccentric dresser and changed his name in the 1920s, using Richard instead of Walter. By the time he died in 1942 in Bathampton, where he was living with his third wife, the painter Thérèse Lessore, a lifetime retrospective had been held at the National Gallery and his reputation as a modern master had been secured.