A DANCER IN A GREEN DRESS - MARIE c 1916
Walter Richard Sickert (1860 – 1942)
- 49.5 X 39.4 CM
- OIL ON CANVAS
- Accession number
A woman sits astride the arm of a couch, the droop of her head extended by the plumage of her head-dress, her legs slumped out in a ‘V’. Shoes have been cast aside and stockinged feet cut short. This is a moment off-guard, and recalls the conseils of Degas: ‘He said that painters too much made of women formal portraits, whereas their hundred and one gestures, their chatteries, &c., should inspire an infinite variety of design...’ Sickert handles the paint loosely, with cursory brushstrokes reflecting the influence of photography. Against the subdued browns and greens, dabs of white and yellow reveal a direct light source, illuminating the woman’s neck and shoulders and picking out the crumples in her breeches.
Painted some time into World War I, this sketchy piece taps into the contemplative mood of Brighton Pierrots, from the same period. Sickert was once more working in a studio at 8 Fitzroy Street, and was revisiting the subject of a similar, more finished painting from 1906, Fancy Dress, Miss Beerbolm(now in the collection of the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool). Marie Beerbolm was a specialist in fancy dress, but more likely the provider of the costume than the sitter. An inscription on one of the two related drawings from 1906 indicates that the sitter was in fact her sister, Agnes, who had been a good friend of Sickert’s since the 1890s.
The title therefore is misleading, but this is not entirely out of keeping with techniques for deflecting attention within the composition. The corner of the couch, at an angle to the picture plane, points to the crotch at the centre; the idea of juncture seems to be at the heart of the picture. The striped upholstery was absent in the original drawings, and its criss-crossing adds a complicating element. So too have the legs been extended beyond the edges, emphasising the splayed direction of the woman’s slouch. A door forks off, stage-right, suggestive of other things going on elsewhere. These serve to divert the focus away from the person, who is a stand-in for a more general mood.
W. Sickert, ‘Degas’, Burlington Magazine, November 1917, in Anna Greutzner-Robins, ed., Walter Sickert: the complete Writings on Art(Oxford University Press, 2000), p.415