Walter Richard Sickert was born in 1860 in Munich, Germany. In 1868 the family relocated to Britain where his father, Oswald, could produce artworks for the 1851 Great Exhibition.
After a short-lived acting career, Walter began studying art in 1881. He studied briefly at the Slade School and then became an assistant to James McNeill Whistler, whose work he admired. Whistler’s influence can be seen in Sickert’s methods of painting throughout his career.
Sickert married Ellen Cobden in 1885 and the two spent much time in Dieppe in France. Sickert’s British work during the 1880s primarily depicts music halls and theatres, showing both performers and audiences. By the end of the 1890s Sickert’s marriage was breaking down, and the two divorced in 1899. After spending several years in France, Sickert returned to London in 1905.
Sickert is perhaps best known as one of the founders of the Camden Town Group. He began hosting regular meetings at his London home, forming the Fitzroy Street Group to promote and support local artists. The Camden Town Group emerged from these sessions in 1911.
The Camden Town Group was an exhibition society of sixteen British painters all working in London. Although they worked in varying styles, their paintings generally focused on portrayals of urban life in Britain. The group would later evolve into the London Group, which included Sickert’s future wife, Thérèse Lessore.
Sickert was also fascinated by sensational murders, most notably the infamous Jack the Ripper killings and the 1907 “Camden Town murder” of Emily Dimmock. Sickert produced several paintings and etchings titled or re-titled after these cases.
Although he was not an official war artist during World War I, he did create several works depicting Allied soldiers. Sickert’s war paintings and etchings were created using models posed in his studios, and reflect a patriotic and detached view of the war rather than an emphasis on the grim realities of life in the trenches.
In 1926 Sickert married Thérèse Lessore, a fellow artist and member of the London Group. The two remained together until his death in 1942.