Winston first met Walter Sickert through Clementine and there followed an intriguing friendship in which Sickert mentored Winston on painting techniques both in person and through a series of ‘teaching’ letters.
Clementine had first met Sickert as a child when she was living in Dieppe. Her mother, Lady Blanche, on separating from her husband Sir Henry Hozier, moved to Dieppe in 1899 where amongst the artistic circles of Dieppe society, she met Sickert who became a firm friend and who gifted her several of the works on paper included in this sale (see lots 13-14). Clementine, then fifteen and attending a convent school in Dieppe, was rather taken by Sickert finding him extremely handsome. She would often see him painting on the streets of Dieppe and when asked once by the artist what she thought of his paintings, she famously told him, ‘Mr Sickert, you seem to see everything with dirty eyes’ (Mary Soames, Winston Churchill His Life as a Painter, London, Collins, 1990, p.60). Sickert must have admired her frankness as the following day he asked her to tea in Neuville-les-Dieppe. A few years later when Clementine was visiting Paris, he turned up without notice and whisked her off on a tour of the city and its galleries, introducing her to Camille Pissarro and Jacques-Emile Blanche. It was not until 1927 that they met again when Sickert read in a newspaper of Clementine’s traffic accident (she was knocked over by a bus on the Brompton Road), and came straight to the Chancellor’s official residence, 11 Downing Street to visit her.
Mr Sickert with Sickert’s annotations in the
margin. © Churchill Heritage Ltd
Sickert and Winston became firm friends and he and his wife, Thérèse Lessore, would often visit Chartwell. Sickert’s mentoring of Winston both in person and through written lessons in the form of letters played a significant role in his development as a painter. Winston was always open to new ideas and Sickert taught him how best to prepare a canvas by creating the Camayeu technique which involved under-painting layers of paint (usually only composed of two colours) and although Winston was already using a camera, Sickert taught him the importance of using photographs as an aide memoire. Sickert also taught him how to use a ‘grille’ (rectilinear grid system) to either enlarge or reduce an image on to canvas. Painting Lesson from Mr Sickert (Fig.1), demonstrates Winston using this technique – the painting is based on a newspaper cutting and has Sickert’s instructions at the edges in pencil. Winston would continue to use photographs in his work and the Chartwell archives have several photographs which can be linked to his paintings, some of which are covered with paint splatters. Writing in September 1927 to Clementine abroad in Venice, Winston enthusiastically discusses his experiments with these techniques and his gratitude to Sickert: ‘I am really thrilled by the field he [Sickert] is opening to me. I see my way to paint far better pictures than I ever thought possible before. He is really giving me a new lease of life as a painter’ (Mary Soames, Winston Churchill His Life as a Painter, London, Collins, 1990, p.68).