Unknown Painting by Walter Sickert for Auction at Bonhams

A previously unknown painting by Walter Sickert, entitled The Blind Sea Captain, is one of the highlights of the 20th Century British Art Sale in New Bond Street on the 9th March.

The painting, which is estimated to sell for £40,000 – 60,000, is from a private collection, inherited by the vendor from her grandfather. The art historian Wendy Baron, who has devoted her life to studying the works of Walter Sickert, was astounded to find a painting by the artist that she had never seen.

Sickert is considered a prominent figure in the transition from Impressionism to modernism, and an important influence on distinctively British styles of avant-garde art in the 20th century. Notorious for his paintings of nudes, four of them controversially entitled, The Camden Town Murder, after a well publicised and gruesome murder of a prostitute in 1907, certainly gained Sickert attention and he became a prominent member of the Camden Town Group of artists.

The Blind Sea Captain is far more sentimental in theme, but in the outbreak of World War One it would have been an appropriate subject for Sickert. The picture itself is thought to have been painted during the summer of 1914 in Dieppe and is typical of Sickert’s proficiency as a master of mood and allusion. Wendy Baron notes in her article in the Bonhams magazine, Sickert has created “an imaginary glimpse into the lives of a man broken by blindness who, but for the devotion of his old mother or wife, would be destined for the workhouse”.

An unfinished sketch in oil on canvas, dated 1912, known as The Old Soldierhas been extensively catalogued and was previously thought to be the sum of Sickert’s work on this subject. However, Wendy Baron comments, “Until The Blind Sea Captainemerged from a private collection in Scotland a few months ago, I had found nothing during 58 years spent studying Sickert’s paintings to suggest that he ever returned to this subject… Its rediscovery is thus especially exciting.”

The completed painting did emerge once (with no title except a label on the back) at an exhibition in Bradford in 1930. It had been lent by Sir Cyril Kendall Butler, a collector of contemporary art at the time, but it is still unknown when Butler bought the painting. Having been seen briefly in 1930 it disappeared for 80 years.

Matthew Bradbury, Director of 20th Century British Art at Bonhams comments “It is very rare these days to find a large and finished oil by Walter Sickert which Dr Wendy Baron has not previously seen. Not since 1991, when the company sold a 1914 oil of a Belgian soldier, has a work of this date depicting a figure appeared on the open market. We are especially pleased therefore to be handling the sale of this canvas, which is in super condition.”


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