My recent outing to Pallant House Gallery in West Sussex to see an exhibition of works by Walter Sickert (1860-1942)
‘Sickert in Dieppe’ exhibition
After looking around Sickert in Dieppe – of which more below – I turned my attention to a small room showcasing works by artists influenced by him (1860-1942). I wasn’t surprised to find Frank Auerbach represented. The main exhibition, which charts Sickert’s relationship with Dieppe, the French seaside town popular with fin de siècle bohemian types such as Oscar Wilde, had made me think of the Auerbach works I’ve seen in London galleries, in particular his engagement with a specific corner of the capital and his depiction of the same scene many times over, from different vantage points.
Sickert’s restricted tonal schemes were in no way inimical to variety throughout his Dieppe stints. Inspiration came from Whistler (for whom he became assistant) and Degas, who encouraged him to heighten architectural detail in his paintings through use of preparatory drawings. While an early Dieppe work, Dieppe Harbour (1885) would have been painted out in the open, in the Impressionist manner, The Laundry Shop from the same year marks a transition to a new way of working, with the windows and door frame displaying a clear pattern of lines. We can see from his preparatory sketch (handily hung beside the finished version) how he had begun to ‘square up’ his compositions through the use of a numbered grid in red pencil.
Among his most affecting works, available as a postcard in Pallant House’s appealing book and gift shop, is The Façade of St Jacques Dieppe (1899). A patch of sunlight lingers on the rose window of the mighty church as dusk approaches.
In his later Dieppe years he returned to his interest in figure painting, which included scenes from the casino (with figures generally painted from behind, to preserve the gamblers’ anonymity). From this period comes The Trapeze (1920), a circus scene that owes an obvious debt to Degas.
The Garden Gallery
In the Garden Gallery and out in the courtyard, where gallery-goers were eating lunch in the warm September afternoon, were some sculpted figures, many overlaid with small mosaic tiles. These were created by the untrained artist Indian artist Nek Chand, who died aged 90 in June, just after this exhibition of 50 of his sculptures from his Rock Garden in Chandigarh opened at Pallant House. He worked with found objects such as cooking pots and spare bits of iron, like many exponents of ‘outsider art’ (not the most useful of terms, when you consider how many big name artists lived their lives some way ‘outside’ mainstream society, but there we go),
The Sickert exhibition, which was well worth seeing, ends on 4th October. After that you’ll still be able to find some of the artist’s works in the gallery’s permanent collection of modern British art. But I don’t recommend gazing at the exterior of Pallant House – a Queen Anne house unhappily married to a formulaic square block modern extension.