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Sickert, Walter (1860 – 1942)

On money worries, his Venice paintings and his friend Degas

A  wonderful four-page autograph letter signed by Walter Sickert (‘Walter’), Dieppe, circa 1900, to ‘my dearest mother’.

He opens, ‘I am quite sure I shall get straight financially now, and the greater weight off my mind is that I see the certainty of paying Fred regularly from this year on word. I have not said much about it, but it has been one of my greatest anxieties. It really would be so disgusting to me to be the cause of making either you or Fred suffer in your incomes, neither of which are larger than you want. For this very reason I must not miss a single possible chance of following up this splendid start I have had in Paris.’ He goes on, ‘Several people want Venice pictures and I have been working on cartoons of them, off and on, ever since I came to Dieppe. So, I am ready to do them very quickly and shall use these colder months at once. It wouldn’t pay to give up my studio every time I go away for a few weeks.’

‘Among other things I must have a permanent business address and it is here that my Paris customers have come, and will continue to come to see my work. My expenses have been these 2 years heavy for a man without any regular sale, but for a man who is making money at all they will come comparatively light. Life it always so much cheaper in a small country town, and so much time saved. In Paris the mere metropolitans and trains and cabs and an occasional meal out reminded me how well off I am here in many respects. I often wish you could have the ease of living in a place like this, the clean air and the absence of distances and hurry. But I don’t see how you could. I can’t imagine your separating from Oswald, and I couldn’t wish it, or Oswald from you. And Oswald must, I imagine, work in London, though Robert and Bernhard would both be better off in the country. I wish I were more use to you. It often worries me. I have had such difficulty picking my own life up out of the wreck I had made of it that the relationship has been reversed as alas it too often is. How often a mother has to help a misshapen son when he ought to be a protector to her.’

Sickert moves on to make mention of ‘the dragging on of this war’ [the Second Boer War’], noting, ‘I must try to find another market for my work besides London as I did not intend to become a war correspondent or a C.I.V.’ then expressing anxiety that his mother ‘should not repeat what I say to you about my work and career, even perhaps to my brothers. I like to talk freely to you about it but the things I say to you spread as they would through Bernhard and Rothenstein and the New English Art Club would be tiresome and fatuous as coming from me. I don’t see why I shouldn’t tell my own mother how I think I am getting on, but at second hand the babble of a promising young man of 40 would sound ridiculous, wouldn’t it?’

The artist then moves on to make a rather amazing mention of his the artist Degas, whom he first met in 1883, and who came to exert a great influence on the British artist’s style: ‘On the other hand here are some phrases of Degas which will amuse them all. How he says he talks to his bonnie. “Mais vous êtes donc bête comme une corpe! Comment? Vous, avec votre intelligence, vous ne comprenez pas que etc.” [‘But you are as stupid as a carp. How’s the possible? You with your intelligence, don’t understand…’] And again, “Mais Zoë [perhaps Zoë Closier, Degas’ housekeeper]. Vous me me mentez comme une fouine” [‘but Zoë, you lie to me like a weasel’]. About réclame [public attention], ‘A quoi cela est-il d’épater les gens. Voyez-vous le concierge dans sa loge lisant le princal a sa femme. “Tiens!” Il parait que le monsieur on second a un faire large et sincere. Je ne savais pas cela.’ [“What’s the point of trying to impress people? Do you see the concierge in his dressing room reading the thing to his wife. “Look!” It seems the gentleman on the second floor has a big, serious do on. I did not know that”]. “Et celui de 3me… (indecipherable) [‘And the guy on the third floor…].

Sickert closes, ‘Goodnight dear mother. It is midnight. I am tired out with hammering my way through a mass of Venice drawings and sketches. Your loving son, Walter’.

In fine condition, with letter folds and slight age-toning.

An extraordinary insight into the psyche of the forty-year old Sickert, with reference to his ongoing work in Venice and burgeoning career in Paris, and touching on his friendship with Degas.