CICELY HEY 1922/23

Walter Richard Sickert (1860 – 1942)


64 X 77 CM
Accession number


‘Kikely’, as Sickert nicknamed her, was the daughter of painter Dr Darwin Hey, and a painter herself, part of the Bloomsbury world. They first met on 17 January 1923, when she was selling tickets on the door of a lecture by Roger Fry (that ‘syren’ speaker, said Sickert). The very next day Cicely starting sitting for Sickert in his Fitzroy Street studio, newly decorated with embossed gold wallpaper. Cicely remembered Sickert doing seven portraits of her in 1923, of which she identified the present piece to be the first completed. Three related studies in pen and ink are held in the collection of the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, one of which bears traces of squaring up, Sickert’s technique for transferring and enlarging a drawing onto canvas.

Here, Cicely is pictured off-centre, leaning on the end of a bedstead - that central motif for the painter of Camden Town. Wendy Baron however regards 1922-4 as ‘a winding-up period’ for this subject, in agreement with Cicely who recalled, ‘I think I was the last occupant of the iron bedstead.’ There is a gentle rhyme between the lilt of her fringe, the curl of her fingers, the ironwork and the green twirls on the wallpaper. But otherwise, the composition has the casualness of a snapshot. Light streams from the right, catching Cicely’s rather pudgy cheek, her fingers, the grooves of a frame on the wall behind and a lip where the wall projects. This vertical stripe down the left side, in parallel with the edge of the canvas, acts as a subtle counterbalance to the slant of the figure. Other portraits of Cicely continue to explore the drama of a single light source (so much so that a sister portrait was for some years mistitled Before the Footlights).

Roger R. Tatlock, then editor of the Burlington Magazine and later art editor of the Daily Telegraph, was the first to buy one of the Kikely paintings, and the following year, 1924, married the sitter herself. Cicely and Sickert remained close until the artist moved to Broadstairs in 1934; he called her his ‘mascot’.

Walter Sickert: Memories by Cecily Hay’, BBC interview, quoted in W. Baron, Sickert: Paintings and Drawings(Yale University Press, 2006), p112