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Walter Richard Sickert's 'Le Corsage Violet' to sell at Bonhams Modern British and Irish Sale
‘Le Corsage Violet’ is a tender close-up study of a coster-girl model. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- Three paintings by Walter Richard Sickert ARA (1860-1942), one of the most influential and flamboyant figures in 20th-Century British art, will be on offer at the Bonhams Modern British and Irish Art sale on November 20 in London’s New Bond Street. ‘Le Corsage Violet’ (1907-8), a highlight of the artist’s collection, will be sold for an estimated value of £100,000-150,000.

‘Le Corsage Violet’ is a tender close-up study of a coster-girl model. Sickert was a cosmopolitan and an eccentric, notorious for his use of prostitutes as models, and also for his frequent adulterous affairs. One cannot help but wonder who the woman in ‘Le Corsage Violet’ is. As Matthew Bradbury, Head of Modern British and Irish Art, asks, “Was she simply a hired model, or was she a friend or a lover?”

‘Le Corsage Violet’ is a mysterious painting in many ways. The anonymous woman is eerily detached: Sickert captures her bust-length figure in profile, her face in shadow, and her eyes downcast. He uses a sombre palette to paint his sitter in his signature sketchy style. The corsage of the title is barely visible; it’s hard to make out the flowers that are suggested by the scrawled lines of lilac-grey paint.

Sickert rejected sentimentality and idealisation in art; he believed that artists ought to embrace stark reality, and he favoured ordinary looking sitters and everyday urban scenes. His fascination with urban culture led him to working class areas of London, and his studio at 6 Mornington Crescent near Camden Town. ‘Le Corsage Violet’ belongs to a series of Sickert’s Mornington Crescent coster-girl interiors painted over the winter of 1907-8, which feature two models wearing black straw hats.

Sickert was fascinated by the lives of his models and the way that they dressed. In ‘Le Corsage Violet’, he fondly illuminates his sitter’s face with the sunlight shining through the window, dabs the brim of her hat with flecks of yellow, and suggests the texture of her coat and blouse with rich and varied strokes.

This oil on canvas is signed 'Sickert' on the lower left corner and measures 50.8 x 40.2 cm. (20 x 15 7/8 in.). Robert John Griffith acquired the painting at an exhibition and sale arranged by Parisian dealer Bernheim Jeune at the Hotel Drouot, Paris, on June 21 1909. By family descent, it has come into the hands of the present owner.

Dr. Wendy Baron, the world's leading academic expert on Walter Richard Sickert, comments: “Le Corsage Violet is distinctive in its Camden Town subject matter and sophisticated in its handling. It is a masterpiece of Sickert’s maturity”.

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