Our last blog of 2012 promised future news about Islington Local History Centre's latest archive cataloguing project, the Sickert Family Collection. I am therefore very pleased to announce that, as scheduled, this is now underway.
Undertaking the task is the Centre's Special Collection's Assistant, Julie Melrose. Julie has been an integral member of the team, working on the Sadler's Wells Theatre Archive cataloguing project since its inception in 2011. At the heart of the Sickert Family Collection are the works, correspondence and ephemera of British artist Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942), whose early career included performing at Sadler's Wells Theatre in 1880.
From Sadler's Wells to Sickert
Julie has began the first stages of this latest cataloguing project by studying the life and times of this larger-than-life artist and his extended family, as well as familiarising herself with the material in the collection. The content is not as large or wide-ranging as that of the Sadler's Wells Theatre Archive Collection but it contains many fascinating items and we're hoping that we may discover material that tells us more about Sickert's time at Sadler's Wells, both as actor and artist.
Actor to Artist
We know that Walter Sickert enjoyed attending performances at the Wells as a young man with his maternal great-aunt, Anne Sheepshanks - during the 1860s, she had rented rooms in Duncan Terrace, Islington, only a short distanace from the theatre. He was to return to Sadler's Wells in 1880 as an actor. Now living at Claremont Square, off Pentonville Road, and only a few minutes walk from Sadler's Wells, Sickert occasionally worked as a utility player at the theatre; Mrs Isobel Bateman was the incumbant manager - she had previously managed the Lyceum Theatre in London’s West End along the same lines as Samuel Phelps had run Sadler’s Wells.
In June and July 1880, and billed as 'Mr Sigurd', Sickert played the role of Demetrius in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. He received a short review in the Theatre Magazine for July 1880, in which it was recorded that he "impersonated Demetrius with 'fair effect' ". Perhaps he realised that his destiny lay elsewhere and, in 1881, he abandoned 'the boards' deciding
instead to pursue a career as an artist.
Sickert returns to the Wells
Sickert returned to Sadler's Wells in 1932, when he took to the stage to ceremoniously donate his latest painting, The Raising of Lazarus to Lilian Baylis for auction; this was to raise funds for the new but financially struggling theatre. Sickert claimed that the donation was made "in memory of my perpetual adoration of Sam Phelps and my gratitude to Isobel Bateman, of whose Sadler's Wells company I was myself a utility member." A packed house witnessed proceedings and, in the weeks after the presentation, the painting was regularly displayed on the Well's stage before performances. It was finally auctioned on 2 December 1932 and bought for 380 guineas by the Beaux Arts Gallery.
Julie and I will you keep you informed in future blogs as to how the project to catalogue the Sickert Family Collection is progressing, and hopefully bring further insights into the life of Walter Sickert at Sadler's Wells.
Visit our online display From Munich to Highbury: Walter Sickert and the Sickert Family Collection.