Bathers, Dieppe

WAG 2262


This picture is one of a series of six large Dieppe subjects that were commissioned by M. Mantren, the proprietor of the Hôtel de la Plage (later Metropole) to decorate his hotel restaurant. Mantren disliked the pictures so much that rather than installing them he sold four of them, including this one, to an American artist, Frederick Fairbanks, who was married to a friend of Sickert's. The Walker bought this picture in 1935 - the same year that a Sickert exhibition was held at the gallery. The view in the picture is, as from a promenade or walkway, looking down towards the beach. There is no horizon. The mixed male and female bathers are shown cropped and off-centre. This arbitrary - almost snapshot - look of the picture was deliberate. Much of Sickert's art, like Degas’, was concerned with painting the image glanced, with seizing the instantaneous and mutable. Despite the apparent random nature of the subject, it is constructed with considerable artifice. For example, in the triangular grouping of the three striped bathers, in the use of flesh and red accents to assist recession and in the striking contrast between the taut slab-like paint-handling of the vertical figures and the much looser strokes of the horizontal bands of wave and foam, reminiscent in the violet and turquoise-green comma-like strokes of Monet's water-lily pictures. Sickert and Monet had jointly visited Monet's first water lily exhibition in Paris in 1900. Degas thought Monet's pictures ‘a doctrinaire and megalomaniac vegetarian series’. Sickert, in contrast, seems to have taken in ideas from another artist faced with the problem of describing a large area of water. The three men in this painting are wearing the striped Dieppe regulation bathing-suit. They could be hired from the Dieppe Casino. There is a photograph of Sickert wearing one, standing calf-deep in the sea at Dieppe, in Islington Library. He may have used this photograph to help him compose the picture.