Walter Richard Sickert

(1860 - 1942)

Barnet Fair

Signed, lower left: Sickert. 
Oil on canvas
27 x 28 in – 68.5 x 71.1 cm
Frame size
32 x 33¾ in – 81.3 x 85.7 cm 

Tel.: +44 (0)20 7839 7693


Major T. Bouch;
Anonymous sale, Christie's, London, 24 April 1964, lot 117, as The Last of Barnet Fair, where purchased by Piccadilly Gallery, London;
Ian MacNicol, Glasgow;
Anonymous sale, Sotheby's, London, 14 November 1979, lot 57;
Belgrave Gallery, London;
Frost & Reed, London, 1981;
Collection of Billy Skelly
Sickert had a brief career as an actor, playing minor roles in Sir Henry Irving's group before training as an artist, and some of his most celebrated works were set in theatres in London and Paris.  In the present painting the focal point is a temporary children's theatre at Barnet fair, in all its gaudy glory.  The crowds are still in the relative distance suggesting the fair has only just opened its gates, evoking a strong sense of the forthcoming event.  Sickert depicted Barnet fair on a number of occasions in the inter-war years, the bucolic atmosphere of such works, contrasting with the horrors of war, echo Christopher Nevinson's subjects of the same period.  In 'Barnet Fair, Hertfordshire' (1930, Gallery Oldham) Sickert brilliantly portrays the character of two experienced horse traders.  Barnet fair first took place in 1588 and for centuries its main focus was livestock, but by the time of the present painting it was mainly entertainment, a fact which the artist may have been alluding to, with just a few horses remaining in the shade.


Walter Richard Sickert was born to parents Oswald Sickert and Eleanor (Nelly) Louisa Henry. His Father and Grandfather were both Danish artists; his Mother was of Anglo-Irish descent. He studied at University College School from 1870-1871 and then King’s College School in Wimbledon. Upon completion of his studies the young Sickert decided he would like to be an artist. However, his Father, knowing all too well the hardships of an artistic career persuaded him to pursue a different line of work. Sickert took to the stage for the next three years, acting in a variety of small productions.

Sickert enrolled at the Slade School of Art in 1881 and soon after met James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) who advised him that the Slade was a waste of time. Whistler gave Sickert an apprenticeship that was instrumental in improving his technical ability and his understanding of European art and artists. In 1883, whilst in Paris, he met and befriended Edgar Degas (1834-1917) who was to have a significant influence on his work. In 1885, Sickert married Ellen Cobden and the couple honeymooned in Milan, Munich, Vienna and Scheveningen, and then spent the summer in Dieppe. Sickert lived and painted in Dieppe at various stages throughout his life.

In 1885, Sickert painted the first of his Music Hall series and began to develop his individualistic version of impressionism, having been influenced by Degas’ paintings of dancers and café-concert entertainers. These paintings were exhibited at the New English Art Club of which Sickert was a member, along with John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), Philip Wilson Steer (1860-1942), George Clausen (1852-1944) and Stanhope Forbes (1857-1947). Between 1894 and 1904, during which period he divorced his wife, Sickert made numerous trips to Venice and painted many of the City’s best known architectural views, as well as nudes in interiors.

Sickert rented a studio in Camden Town in 1905, where just two years later, a prostitute named Emily Dimmock was murdered in nearby St. Paul’s Road (now Agar Grove). This was known as the ‘Camden Town Murder’, a title that Sickert adopted for a group of paintings depicting murky bedroom interiors featuring male and female figures. This brought much controversy and publicity that worked to the artist’s advantage. Sickert also painted a number of heavily impastoed obese female nudes in a similar fashion, an idea that can be said have influenced contemporary artists such as Lucien Freud (1922-1911) and Jenny Saville (b.1970).

In 1911, Sickert helped establish the Camden Town Group, which consisted of artists influenced by Post-Impressionism and Expressionism. The group, which had been meeting since 1905, included Harold Gilman (1876-1919), Spencer Frederick Gore (1878-1914), Lucien Pissarro (1863-1944), Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957), Robert Bevan (1865-1925), Augustus John (1878-1961), Henry Lamb (1883-1960) and Charles Ginner (1878-1952).

Between 1908-1912 and 1915-1918 Sickert taught at the Westminster School of Art. In 1911 he married his second wife, Christine Angus, who died in 1920. He married his third wife, the artist Therese Lessore (1884-1945) in 1926 and lived in Brighton, Islington and Thanet. They finally resided in Bath in 1938, where Sickert lived and worked until his death in 1942.

His works can be found in museums in: London, Tate Gallery, National Portrait Gallery; Liverpool, Walker Gallery; Edinburgh, National Galleries of Scotland and Brisbane, Queensland Art Gallery.

Sickert Walter Richard