a bit of tonic

Cup of Tea, 1905
Bonne Fille, 1906
Helen Carte, 1885

Les Petites Belges (Young Belgian Women), 1907
La Hollandaise, c. 1906
Mornington Crescent nude, contre jour, 1907
 2 versions of Ennui, c. 1914
La Giuseppina, 1903-1904
Still thinking about color after attending APHA's all-day color conference. 
An encore post with updates:
A painter I've always liked from afar is Walter Sickert
. I say from afar because I never sought out a biography or treatise on him, it was simply that each time I came across one of his works I took note. I am always drawn to his colors: smokey, tenebrous, sharp, acidic. In my mental storehouse of mood and color, however, his choices were always relegated to the appealing but problematic section. His subjects lay in the working classes, the music hall stage, the decadent and alien exoticism of Venice, and most notoriously, in the seamy bed-sit flats of Camden Town in North London and the prostitutes who toiled in them. The moods he captured ranged from the cheerfully tawdry to quiet grimness to the palpably brooding. It wasnt his subject choice that I found problematic, it was something about the atmosphere he conjured up—insistently and consistently—in each work. Is it the sense of remove? Is it the voyeurism? Airlessness? A bit of Sickert is tonic, dwell too long in those visual spaces and one feels a creeping discomfort.

Sickert was born in Munich to a Danish father and an English mother, but grew up in England. After a brief career on the stage, he became an assistant to James MacNeill Whistler. After 1890 he went to Paris and studied with Degas. Sickert's return to London in 1905 was followed up with a series of nudes that have become inextricably linked with the Camden Town Murder mystery. These paintings and Sickert's perverse sense of self-promotion (calling, for instance, a very equivocal scene of a weary clothed man and sleeping(?) naked woman alternately "What shall we do for the rent?" and "Camden Town Murder") ultimately led to the preposterous theorizing of author Patricia Cornwall that Sickert was Jack the Ripper.

Recently I read a brief but brilliantly written essay about Sickert by Max Kozloff*. In it is one of the most expertly evocative descriptions of color:

...It would be hard to imagine a more distraught monochrome a more neurasthenic sobriety. Whether in its resiny or vaporous distillation, the paint molds into umber purple, degraded violets, emaciated brownish greens, diseased oranges, prussic, somewhat mildewed blues, the whole occasionally enlivened with little splutters of toned-down white, cream or mustard.
I find the mental image of that entire palette—degraded violets!— incredibly enticing. Perhaps this speaks to my fascination with Farrow and Ball color charts and my longstanding wish to be paid to research and name colors. How wonderful it would be to have (house) paint charts based on ones favorite painters. Sickert for neurasthenic aesthetes, Milton Avery’s sober olives and grays pierced with oranges, mauves and royal blues for liberal intellectuals with expressionist leanings, Fragonard's nubile pinks and celestial blues for those whose tastes run to more... cheerful titillation. Benjamin Moore take note/

*  I should note that this essay is in an obscure and out of print book, The Grand Eccentrics (From Medieval to Contemporary: the eccentric in painting, sculpture and architecture). Many thanks to Malcolm Enright who pointed me to this fascinating collection of essays. An uneven, and in some ways flawed, book it is never the less a terrific storehouse of some great writing and invaluable facts about some of the most riveting figures in art. The book deserves its own post.


Sophie Munns said...

Fabulous post Angela...and the links are too.
I heard Victoria Finlay speak at a writers festival 5 or so years ago? She was riveting!

Love your take on Sickert and the post on Farrow and Ball. I see you naming colours frankly...words are so your thing and the connection of word and colour....!

When worried my palette is getting too samey I wander over to colours I dont particularly like and start pushing them around until I go somewhere interesting. It always gets me out of a rut.

Hope I get to see a post on colours you have named sometime...I know its not the same as getting paid... have a lash anyway!

angela said...

you're such a boost to the ego Sophie! Thanks so much!

I updated the post to mention the book in which the Kozloff essay appeared-- The Grand Eccentrics--a fascinating find courtesy of Malcolm Enright.

Also, I just now realize I listened to a lecture on color that I found on itunes. Will need to dig that up and post the info. The speaker really gets into great esoteric details about the gritty creation of color, alchemy, etc. You might find that inspiring. Will let you know.

Sophie Munns said...

if you were located here you would be invited to speak on these fabulous subjects as you post on.
Our population is drastically smaller, we are not in the centre of global art traffic, and even though I actually enjoy the particular ambience and dialogue that is born of this region it would be a great "boost" to us to have imput from engaging people like yourself!

I have thought of some people I must connect with you...esp on the subject of colour. 'd like to post on this in particular if that is fine with you Angela!

will stay tuned!


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