On Sickert

I’ve been to see the Sickert exhibition at Tate Britain, having meant to go and see it in Liverpool when it was on show there.

Poster for Sickert exhibition at Tate Britain

Sickert’s long been among my favourite British artists – and artists per se. The exhibition traces his development from his beginnings as Whistler’s protégé in the 1880s to becoming the grand old man of British art as Europe descended into war for the second time during his life. The curators haven’t flinched from questioning the ethics of Sickert’s nudes or his interest in the infamous Camden Town Murder, and outline how his pioneering usage of photographs paved the way for Pop Art. For me, it was especially good to see many of his Degas-influenced music-hall and theatre pictures assembled together; likewise with the ‘conversation pieces’, narrative paintings in shades of brown and muted ochre, which could have illustrated the novels of Bennett or Wells.

Here’s a poem of mine, written six or seven years ago, which focuses on three fine Sickert paintings in the Tate collection, all of which feature in the exhibition, two of them hung side-by-side.

Sickert: Minnie Cunningham at the Old Bedford, 1892, and Brighton Pierrots, 1915
Sickert: Miss Earhart’s Arrival, 1932

Sickertian Reds

Vermilion: the dress and hat of Minnie Cunningham,
vamping, for the Bedford Music Hall’s Friday-night delight,
‘I’m an Old Hand at Love, Though I’m Young in Years’.

Venetian: the suits worn by Brighton Pierrots, trotting out
patter to rows of vacant deckchairs, while poison-gas drifts
and chokes the No Man’s Land beyond Sickert’s Dieppe.

Scarlet: the mac defining a news reporter’s back, hunched
at the front of a vast crowd flailed by rain, waiting hours
for Amelia Earhart’s arrival at Hanworth Air Park, May ’32;

conception month of my parents, who grew up to nurture
such tasty Moneymaker tomatoes, lining them up to redden
on the south-facing window-sill, behind the kitchen sink.

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