War, Women and the Landscape

Tabatha Legget 9 February 2010

‘Sargent, Sickert and Spencer: Hidden Depths’ Fitzwilliam Museum – Until 5th of April 2010

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925); Walter Sickert (1860-1942) and Stanley Spencer (1891-1959) are three of the most original painters of the early twentieth century. The exhibition includes a wide range of art: from watercolour paintings to oil on canvas, the showcased works vary hugely in their style and presentation. Museum curator Jane Munro explained that the primary objective of the exhibition was to showcase the range and depth of the holdings at the Fitzwilliam, which currently holds one of the best collections in the UK.

Furthermore, Munro explained that the works complement each other, allowing different themes to be brought out. The first theme to be displayed is titled ‘War Zones’. All three artists were affected by the First World War in different ways, and their involvement is evident in their work. Other themes include: music, travel, religion and love. For me, the most interesting theme is that of women, and is titled ‘Conversation Pieces: Women in Interiors’. All three artists were interested in showing women thinking introspectively. The first portrait we see upon entering the exhibition is Sargent’s painting of Dorothy Barnard. This portrait sets the tone for the exhibition and showcases Sargent’s incredible connection with his subject matters. It is within this section that we really begin to understand how the artists differed stylistically. Sickert was very interested in human psychology, as his paintings of nude women appear to be very mysterious. Spencer, however, adopted an almost clinical gaze towards his subject matters and his nude pictures are almost claustrophobic in their proximity to the women.

Another interesting aspect is landscape painting. All three artists painted landscapes in the hope that they would sell. Despite this somewhat detached motive, some of the works are truly gorgeous.

This collection of paintings and drawings is beautiful and thought-provoking. It traces the stories of three great artists, and draws out their similarities and differences obviously and seamlessly. Spencer is quoted, saying “love is the essential power in the creation of art, and love is not a talent”. This quotation conveys the passion that each artist felt for his work. I would thoroughly recommend visiting this exhibition.

Tabatha Legget