LONDON - An artist’s studio is a revered space, a rarely seen world that inspires curiosity and affords insight into how an artist worked. For example this image of Frank Auerbach shows a studio filled with smatterings of paint, calling to mind his wonderfully textured paintings, currently on display at Tate Britain.


FRANK AUERBACH, 1963. PHOTOGRAPH BY JORGE LEWINSKI © THE LEWINKSI ARCHIVE AT CHATSWORTH/BRIDGEMAN IMAGES.

Images of an artist at work are often even more elusive: the creative act is one that remains seldom witnessed by anyone other than the artist’s closest friends and family. In Walter Sickert’s The Studio: The Painting of a Nude, however, the artist reveals not only his studio, but also incorporates himself, absorbed in the act of painting.


WALTER SICKERT, THE STUDIO: THE PAINTING OF A NUDE, 1906. ESTIMATE £120,000–180,000.

Paintbrush in hand, Sickert’s own arm stretches diagonally across the foreground of the work, the tip of the bristles touching just outside the edge of the canvas. This at first seems to be a visual pun, of Sickert at work painting this very canvas, but, in fact, what we see is a reflection of the artist’s hand in a mirror.

The access given to Sickert’s studio through this reflection gives it an even more privileged air. Yet this is no mere accident: the composition is highly sophisticated. A second mirror stands at the back of the room, showing not only the reverse of the model but also the recesses of the studio.


WALTER SICKERT, CIRCA 1912. PHOTOGRAPH BY GEORGE CHARLES BERESFORD.

In many aspects, the work brings to mind Diego Velázquez’s famous Las Meninas (The Prado). It similarly shows the artist at work, and cleverly layers the composition using a mirror placed at the back of the room. Both works display extraordinary depth, forcing the viewer to decode each element of the scene, and the insertion of the artist into each adds further complexity. No less than Velazquez, Sickert in the work in this sale displays incredible compositional skill, transporting the viewer to his North London studio with masterful ease, and allowing rare access into this normally very private space.


DIEGO VELÁZQUEZ, LAS MENINAS, 1656.