Friday, 22 November 2013

Sickert at Tate Britain

'Taste is the death of a painter' - Walter Richard Sickert, 1908

This week Tate Britain officially reopened its doors after a two-year renovation; it celebrates this weekend with a 'house-warming party'. The new rehang, sponsored by BP, arranges 500 years of British art chronologically, throwing up a number of juxtapositions and surprises.

If you want to trace the work of one artist through the BP Walk through British Art, you could do worse than follow the career of Walter Sickert. The German-born artist first appears halfway round Tate Britain's west wing in the room dedicated to the 1840s - Café des Tribunaux, Dieppe (c1890) - and continues to the front of the east wing: Miss Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies as Isabella of France (1932).

The theatre crops up in early, Impressionistic, Minnie Cunningham at the Old Bedford (1892), though his fascination is given an unsettling, haunting twist in Brighton Pierrots (1915). In between, La Hollandaise (c1906) perhaps represents the peak of his Camden Town nudes.

Unfortunately, there's no room for Ennui (c1914), and I'd love to see his 1935 portraits of the Martin family, but on the way are Sickert's contemporaries: the Camden Town and Bloomsbury groups, Augustus John and his associates, and the Vorticists. Following Dulwich Picture Gallery's recent exhibition, 'A Crisis of Brilliance', the work of a group of Slade artists from a century ago shines especially brightly: David Bomberg (The Mud Bath, 1914), Stanley Spencer (Swan Upping at Cookham, 1915-19), CRW Nevinson (La Mitrailleuse, 1915), Paul Nash (Dead Sea, 1940-1) and Mark Gertler's wonderful Merry-Go-Round (1916).

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