Walter Sickert would communicate individual aspects of the secret history he reveals across a sequence of gallery pictures and sketches. Never in just one isolated painting. An insight into the hidden past as communicated by Sickert is never contained in just one Gallery picture, but across a number of connected paintings in a series.
At time to time these series overlap a little.
This technique was something of a precaution against those who wished to pervert the course of history, who might easily destroy one isolated masterpiece.
Marjorie Lilly, a friend he met in 1913, makes no mention of ever having been given state secrets, ( very few do), but she frequently laments the fact that many painting series were split up,and individual paintings distributed about the world. Yet Walter Sickert promoted and encouraged this , apparently as a means of keeping secrets safe from destructive hands.
…'……Works were seized by or entrusted to politicians, aristocrats, close friends; some scenes Walter Sickert painted disappeared almost instantly. Some vanished forever. We are suffering today from years of public neglect. His own carelessness about preserving his best work was only equaled by the carelessness of the art world. He remained the painter’s painter for too long; his best period was overlooked by art advisers and curators until these pictures were too difficult to acquire, when they fell often fell back on inferior examples to fill the gaps on their walls. …Sickert’s masterpieces steal on one unawares; the work has an accumulative effect and the simplest way to enjoy him is to see a lot of it...' Mjpp30-40
'Those who had the privilege of visiting the collection of 1941 at the National Gallery, assembled by Miss Lilian Browse, found it, as he would say, ‘one long roll of revelation.’ There are fine Sickerts to be seen today, here and there; at the Leicester galleries, and at Messrs. Agnew; the Tate, which has made gallant efforts to catch up with him, possesses several interesting portraits….but when students and art lovers ask me where Sickerts are to be found it is difficult to suggest a gallery which exhibits enough of his best work for them to gain a true impression of his powers.’Mjpp30-40
This leaves many Sickert students in something of a situation. ( And the grumbling and sighing and complaining about it goes right on into the present day.) Fifty years after Marjorie Lilly recorded her evidence, the average student will find it almost impossible to resource and regroup paintings in series that provide ' a roll of revelation' without specific secret history facts that identify their connection and what he is suggesting in each individual picture. Walter Sickert wanted the truth to remain in the world, yes. He set it down for those who knew about the injustices they'd suffered and their relatives, friends and descendants, none of whom have any trouble perceiving the realities hidden in the pictures. He also had a habit of giving extraordinary paintings to passers by- on one or two recorded occasions, to tramps. He was a man without society style snobbery, and made confidential relationships on individual bases.
Throughout most of this study we'll be looking at Sickert's pictures of 'The Old Bedford.' Note the exact style of hat the lady 'up in the gallery' wears- it's yet another reference to Catharine 'Kitty' Eddowes ( and, as many point out- his love of theatrical costume). This is the same hat she wore while attending Prince Eddy's back street wedding, according to Walter Sickert's gallery pictures.
'The Boy I Love is up in the Gallery'
The next extensive casework painting series we'll look at we might call 'The Stalls and the Gallery,' for our own reference, (bearing in mind he never gave a series a name.) This series, filled with indications about the casework, incorporates the series frequently referred to by experts as 'The Old Bedford ' series.
Sickert's evocative picture of a little girl, which he gave two titles ( as usual) entitled 1. ' Little Dot Heatherington at the Bedford Music Hall,' 2. 'The boy I love is up in the gallery', is popularly considered to be one of his leading masterpieces . Utterly beautiful. It was painted prior to what's commonly described as his ' most productive period' c 1895- 1906, but quite possibly during an earlier, equally productive era, 1880-1889.
The boy 'up in the gallery' to whom Sickert refers in the series, is the little Stuart Prince. We know him as 'Jo', because we've seen the secret sketches.
In 1874, George Ware, Music Hall songwriter for child stage performers, wrote the following little ditty: 'The boy I love is up in the gallery' , the contents of which are self explanatory.
The boy I love is up in the gallery
The boy I love is looking down at me.
There he is!
Can’t you see?
Waving his handkerchief,
Merry as a robin that sings on a tree.
Below, one of Sickert's considered masterpieces, an evocative picture of a little girl, the picture has two titles: 1. ' Little Dot Hetherington at the Bedford Music Hall,' 2. 'The boy I love is up in the gallery'. Prov. London, Christies, March 1930 ( 107). Hamilton Emmons.
This painting was exhibited in 1895, London Van Wisselingh, no. 24, with the song title 'The boy I love is up in the gallery' at Walter Sickert's request. It forms part of what's commonly referred to as the 'Old Bedford' series'.
A number in the 'Stalls and Gallery series' are analysed below; many 'went missing' for many years. In this central painting, little Dot Hetherington is depicted centre stage at the Bedford Music Hall in the 1880's, pointing up at a gentleman's gallery box.
It's often stated that the beautiful Dot Hetherington picture was painted during Walter Sickert's ' most productive period' c 1895- 1906, for want of firm evidence or coherent analysis to the contrary. There is this suggestion, re the date, though not in the tonal features. Walter Sickert did produce a great deal of careful evidence and artwork throughout this time.
On the painting's first exhibition, the singer was of course instantly identified as the little Old Bedford singer ' Dot Hetherington', via Walter Sickert's gallery title. The little known artiste had performed at the Old Bedford music hall on the 24th October, 1888, two weeks prior to the night Mary Kelly, final canonical 'Jack the Ripper' victim, disappeared from the history books.
Wendy Baron (1993) observes of little Dot in the gallery painting: 'her dress and demeanor anticipate Mary Lloyd, whose repertoire was to feature 'The boy I love is up in the Gallery', written by George Ware in 1885'.... (Sickert went on to paint 'The Sisters Lloyd' , whose dress in fact greatly differs from that of 'little Dot' in his paintings). We cannot connect little Dot Hetherington and the motive for the title of the painting 'The boy I love is up in the gallery' on the basis of a comparison between music hall singers' dresses. That was never what Sickert intended. He wouldn't go to such lengths for a frippery.
So why 'The boy I love is up in the Gallery,' Mr. Sickert?
Note that the music hall gallery box decorations that little Dot points towards, start to take the form of the little Putti (cherubs) in the Basilica dei St XII Apostoli, Rome, beneath the monument where Queen Clementina's ( Bonnie Prince Charlie's mother's) heart is enclosed. The putto ( cherub) on the right, at which little Dot (below) is pointing, corresponds exactly with the putto on the right on Queen Clementinas little monument in the small Italian church. ( Queen Clementina is the Bonnie Prince Charlie's mother.)
Queen Alexandra and Prince Albert Victor Christian Edward. Queen Alexandra is set behind the backstage curtain, looking on, and Prince Eddy is seated beneath the gallery box. He sports his bowler hat. He’s depicted age twenty or so, exactly as he appears in the photograph left.
Behind the stage set, behind little Dot, we can see a very high rectangular archway, high enough for Archangel Michael- and we might make the comparison directly, as the specific archway is unique to the Vatican. Compare the archways in the painting against the archway behind Queen Clementina's monument in the Vatican (below.)
Note how in Sickert's finished painting, Queen Alexandra places her right hand on a wide pink pillar identical to the pink marble pillar on the left of Queen Clementina's monument.
Compare the Archways in both the Vatican (above) and the sketch of The Old Bedford (below) and look at a) the Putti (cherubs) beneath the Monument to Queen Clementina in the photograph, then b) the decoration on the gallery box in Sickert's sketch towards which little Dot points . ( The putti/ cherubs progressively become clearer in Sickert's pictures.)
Note also that Walter Sickert's 'inversed' the Vatican Archways in his sketch of the Old Bedford, below. The Archway to the right, behind little Dot in the Stage Set, in place of the triangular topped archway leading away behind the monument to Queen Clementina. ( If you find this abit difficult, don't worry about it. Watch the cherubs below Queen Clementina's monument, and look for signs of them in Sickert's sketches.)
Right: 'Little Dot Hetherington at the Old Bedford' , 1888-9. Pencil, pen and ink. ( Now at the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven) .
The line/contour of the light shining onto Dot suggests we focus on perspective.
Bowler hatted Prince Eddy, who appears at the right of the finished oil painting beneath the gallery box, is fully reflected on the left of the sketch picture. There is only the faintest suggestion of any reflection in the completed, oil -painted picture, (where the matter is disguised by the 'Bowler hatted Eddy on the right' apparently having withdrawn his pipe from his pocket.)
Walter Sickert's suggesting that little Dot's pointing hand might just as well be ‘inversed’, as in a mirror image.
So: Somewhere in the world, the original hand on which hers is modeled , a 'right hand', will reflect her own, and point in the opposite direction.
The pink Vatican marble pillar to the left of Clementina's monument is disguised as a theatre curtain in the completed oil painting shown above; the decoration at the base of the Vatican Monument to Bonnie Charlie's mother, Queen Clementina, demonstrating the little Putti, ( the little cherubs) is disguised as a 'gallery theatre box' in Sickert's completed painting and sketches.
Note also, at this stage, the lady in the audience who appears throughout the series, every time Eddy, 'the bowler hatted man' appears. They're clearly not officially associated, yet Walter Sickert etches her in corresponding tones throughout . Her hat seems to suggest the long, plumed tail of the fashionable 'birds of paradise' , named after visiting aristocrats who visited tropical regions and hunted them down. She's Mary Kelly, the 'Blackbird of Paradise.'
That Mary Kelly, ( later displayed in detail in a related painting) should be subject to this ''Bird of Paradise' inference appears to have some significance; folklore relating to the aristocracy draws a strict distinction between the exotic 'Birds of Paradise', ( the nobility) such as
the 'Prince Albert' ......and the 'Blackbird of Paradise' that according to folklore, represents the returning Stuarts . The Stuarts are-according to folklore- 'Blackbirds of Paradise'; classed as terrorists and usurpers. (And above all, Catholics). (Walter Sickert later painted a superb exaggerated portrait of Mary Kelly in her most vivacious, perhaps happiest stance, entitled 'Blackbird of Paradise.' It became one of his most treasured paintings). We can see from the date of the 'Old Bedford series' that Walter's painting the early 1885 era, when Mary, Stuart that she was, was approved and taken care of by the royal family; hence his reference to her status as one of the 'Birds of Paradise.')
Left; 'Joe Haynes and little Dot Hetherington at the Old Bedford Theatre', c. 1888-9. Chalks, watercolour and charcoal, 31.75 x 26.7 cm ( 12.5 x 10.5 in.) Private Collection.
In this picture, (shown left), the high rectangular Vatican like archways of the theatre and its gallery and the other significant features blend into the backgound, though the bowler hatted Prince Eddy is still present on the right of the picture and reflected on the left of the picture. The little girl, 'Dot' continues to point at the gallery. She's glorified by some sort of ethereal light.
The stream of light pointedly highlights her pointing hand, which takes on the proportions of that of some gargantuan being. The picture title is more revealing, and suggests who’s ‘up in the gallery’: 'our lost prince Joe'.'
Joe Haynes was a well known music hall singer in the 1880's. Yet the name 'Joe', carefully deployed, appears- of we follow all the clues- to be significant.
We need to take a closer look at beautiful little Dot, her costume, the contra-jour light that surrounds her and her demonstrative hands.
Set in the face value Music Hall context she ought simply to be a music hall child , tap dancing and prancing about the stage while pounding out the words to the popular song ' The Boy I Love is Up in the Gallery.'
Even at a glance, though, that's the last thing this ethereal little girl is.
See her close up below. Her gentleness and simplicity evince Degas' 'Repetition d'un Ballet sur Scene', 1874; her focused gesture , however, is more suggestive of Michelangelo's Capella ceiling, than the music hall scene of 1880's West London. She's focused, stilled. She's not simply pointing out a gallery seat as part of some regular routine.
She's drawn to a thing of no small significance.
She holds in her right hand the golden incense portal that the Catholic choir boys and boy assistants to the Priest hold in their right hands while walking up the Isle towards St Peter's altar, during Mass at the Vatican, Rome ( to this day). She's not wearing a Theatre or Music Hall ensemble. Her dress exactly replicates the unique white over robe the choir boys and assistants wear while carrying incense and prayer books toward St Peter's altar.
Dot's pointing hand isn't modeled on Michelangelo's Sistine chapel ceiling, nor on that master's Heavenly Father floating on his unattainable cloud in the Sistine chapel. (It resembles the outstretched hands of those masterpieces a little, at a glance).
It can be found right inside the Vatican, a little way before St Peter's altar, where the Mass is read at evensong. It belongs to the great statue of Elijah, who stretches out his right hand and points toward the great Latin announcement about 'The King'. See below:
The Statue of Elijah to the Right of St Peter's Altar, The Vatican, Rome, points, arm outstretched towards the emblazoned latin Notification 'the King has come' above St Peter's Altar.
Elijah points toward the bold golden lettering to the left of St Peter's altar: little Dot, up at the gallery box suggesting Queen Clementina's Vatican monument.
' The boy I love is up in the gallery.' By the little girl messenger, the boy in the gallery is a young Catholic Stuart King.
Examine the perspectives in the Vatican surrounding Elijah. Compare these against Sickert's first sketch, looking at the archway behind little Dot pointing up at the Gallery, and the archway that can be seen behind Elijah. Remember that the first Sickert sketch implies that the original hand upon which Dot Hetherington's is modeled is pointing in an inverse direction.
The Putti (cherubs) beneath the Vatican Monument to Queen Clementina, Bonnie Prince Charlie's mother, who display the Stuart's Sceptre and hold her Crown.
Pay particular attention to their shape, their form.
‘Stuart Hearts and Stuart Monuments’ are important to Walter Sickert, who uses them to suggest Stuart history and to symbolize the state of play in respect of the ‘The Lost Prince’ . He's an artistic genius, a master of caprice, of disguise, given to demonstrations of the extraordinary. He focuses on the little Putti (cherubs). These cherubs were a special favorite of the Cardinal Henry Stuart King I and IX, whose private quarters and private homes evidence the extent to which they were the focus of his informal art commissions (many of them still Vatican property). I have had privileged access to these inner chambers, courtesy of the Vatican.
There's an inscription, upper right, on this sketch, that gives us an insight into the extent to which Sickert was keen to continuously trace the whereabouts of essential pictures in series that contained secrets; apparently so secrets he communicated would not be lost after pictures and paintings had been separately exhibited and sold . He's making notes on the picture's continued provenance, with the different owners' permission, and staying in contact with the many people who've purchased the same item.
It's signed 'Sickert' lower right. The charcoal picture's inscribed upper right by Sickert as follows: ' painted on a canvas given to me by F Forster in -date erased- at Neuville. sold to Cahen. Bt at hotel Drouot by Bernheim's.'
Above: 'Gallery of The Old Bedford', circa 1894, charcoal rendition.
Mrs. George Swinton, ( owner of the charcoal sketch 1964) was the first to report in later times that there were still several 'painted versions, or modifications' of an original sketch format ( to our left) in circulation.
This original sketch rendition reveals the Stuart secret' in the series. It displays a picture of a little boy in a cap, peeking over the Bedford gallery edge. 'Jo'. Walter Sickert's drawn the boy in the gallery as though the great mirror ought to reflect him in the gallery opposite him , yet he evidently exists entirely in the world inside the mirror, opposite which there seems to be a large, lively crowd of Penny Gaff and Music hall boys.
The great mirror , used in this way, instantly suggests Jacobite or Pre-Raphaelite art. For Jacobites, scenes happening in the mirror pertain to Stuart secrets. For the Pre Raphealite brotherhood, the mirror will depict a circumstance that explains certain happenings in the painting's dominant scene.
The Gallery box (in the sketch) above which the mirror extends is evidently the one at which little Dot Hetherington points in ' Little Dot Hetherington at the Old Bedford' / 'The boy I love is up in the gallery', and in the preliminary sketches ( shown higher up) .
It's decoration is exactly the same. But most importantly, The two figures on the theatre-box decoration features are clearly the little Stuart Putti from Rome. Sickert has selected from the four Putti (cherubs) and accurately replicated two of them. In the gallery box in the little sketch above, we appear to be looking at one of the two who guard Clementina's heart, beneath the monument in the St Appostoli, the one who holds her heart to the light, and the one on the left on the Vatican monument who blazens the Stuart sceptre. Absolutely exactly; unmistakably. The charcoal sketch (above) which preceded two larger , painted versions, may, as experts have it 'have been used as an intermediary.' Perhaps, from the tonal study point of view. It is prerequisite, it does differ from the finished oeuvres, but in terms of its content it stands alone, nonetheless. Its detail holds more significance for the history student than that of the finished works it precedes.
There's a little boy in the gallery. Notice that the little boy's cap in the sketch above is somewhat distinctive. It appears to be an 1880's cricket cap, with a long rim. Was Sickert a cricketer? Was 'Jo(e)' a cricketer? It seems they both were, and happily we can draw from the magical Walter Sickert himself:
..."When you are drawing you must be clear that you are doing three things and the first thing you must do is get your tentative line. The first thing you must remember about your tentative line is that it is not a thing that can be done and then washed out. That is the English view of everything. People always apologize for such things. There is no reason to apologize for anything. If you apologize you can't draw. Put your tentative line down and say 'My tentative line is good enough for anybody.' That is how you must feel about it. It may not be of course but that is how you must feel. You must leave your tentative line and you must leave it- ( proceeds to talk on 'half tones' being the second thing..)..then ..."My great point is that the three operations in a drawing must be separate and must be done at a run. When you do these things you must think that you are Holbein and ( names imperfectly heard by auditor) all rolled into one. It is no use saying I am a poor wretched sinful person, if you do you will be a poor wretched sinful person and you had better put your pencils down and never attempt anything. You must 'have the cheek' to do it. If you get the tentative line and then the half tones, then you will get the object 'in the round.' A head we will say will look like a bubble- like an object of some form. The same thing applies to the half tones that applies to the tentative line. You must not mess your bubble about. You must not do what a little boy I knew used to do who was very sensitive and shy and when he threw a ball up and it didn't go where he wanted it to he used to say 'I mean'. You must not do that, you must be callous, then you will produce something of the character- the plastic character of the bubble, like some round but insufficiently defined object."... ( Goes on to speak of the definitive line as the final stage).
Walter Sickert, Lecture given the 23rd November, 1934, 'Engraving, Etching etc'
The man behind the tentative boy in his little cap in the gallery in the sketch above, appears to be shadowing him. His guardian, presumably. Walter Sickert. There seems to be a self portrait sketch there.
The guardian's facial contours in the charcoal sketch above are unusual. They take on the shape of a self portrait Walter Sickert painted c 1913, 'Self Portrait: The Bust of Tom Sayers.' ( right). From the collection of the late Morton H Sands. (Last exhibited at Christies, 1988, no 48).
Sickert expert Wendy Baron suggests that in this self portrait W.S. 'leaves his 1906 introspection behind' and depicts himself as a 'jaunty pugilist' in a flamboyant eccentric beard. I don't agree there. There is a profound sadness in the picture. The 'beard' is not really just a beard, is it... (needless to say); it evokes the 'muzzle' that Sickert , while giving short shrift, complains of being strapped into lest he inform the public about a precious little face while complaining about populist 'art' ( flattering portraiture):
'From every other page of our daily and weekly papers, the required ideal plays with us a self -possessed and disquieting game of peep-bo. In the year of grace 1910 she consists of three parts. The chief is a ravishing hat, for the description of which I must refer you to the more able and sachverstanding pens. A little face, for the description of which I am forced reluctantly into French - museau, frimesse, binette-but words are poor things, even in French'....
Walter Sickert: 'Goosocracy', in The New Age, 12th May 1910.
This 'muzzle' in the self portrait appears to be analogous to the fact that Sickert was bound and gagged about the security secrets that he was obliged to keep in respect of the little boy called 'Jo'. It appears to have been in place while he painted the full olf painting exhibition versions of 'Gallery of the Old Bedford' ...since the little boy and the Stuart Putti are presented separately.. You can see it in the charcoal sketch above, in the guardian figure in the gallery box- the figure that looms over the little boy.
Left: the final version, first Exhibited in London, 1895, NEAC., no. 93, then entitled 'The Boy I Love is up in the Gallery'. ( Walter Sickert always provided the art galleries with a specific Gallery title on each occasion.) Last exhibited by the Walker Art Gallery, London, 1947. Note that it is this particular painting that is given the title 'The boy I love is up in the gallery', the same title as he gave the lovely painting of little Dot Hetherington.
Here we see that the little boy, 'Jo', who appears in the sketch, has been effaced entirely. An older man replaces him, wearing the fashionable Wildean broad rimmed Italian hat. He peers over the balcony, in place of little Jo. This, then, is 'Joe Haynes', well known director of the Old Bedford throughout the 1880's. Not our 'Jo'.
The little 'Putti' (cherub) are very clear. They are those that surround Queen Clementina's monument in Rome.
Wendy Baron ( 1992) noted how the different versions in what she calls the 'Old Bedford series' focusing on the gallery box have from time to time borne the title ' Cupid in the Gallery'; of significance to our study. when we recall that Cupid was first and foremost a cherub, a 'putto'-
And, there's a love affair happening in a 'gallery' of direct relevance to little Jo(e); one between Prince Eddie and Mary Kelly- ( one Sickert also paints elsewhere.)
Wendy and other experts have remarked on how the construction of this painting and prerequisite sketches is exceptionally skilled. Here we have a master of perspective demonstrating the lofty heights of the Music Hall , showing the far reaching impression made by both singer and song.
Left: another in the 'Old Bedford series', also titled 'Gallery of the Old Bedford.' ( Click to enlarge). Signed bottom right 'Sickert', as ever; first exhibited in the Leicester Galleries, 1930, courtesy E.M.B. Ingram, who later bequeathed it to the Fitzwilliam Museum. This rendition is often ( erroneously it appears) thought to have been executed as a rehearsal for 'the final version'. In the rendition a finely featured boy distinctly appears in the Gallery box on the right of the picture; a captivated crowd look on behind him. Compare this boy's appearance to that of our Jo illustrated at approx. age six or seven.
Sickert's suggestion is that he's Watching little Dot; who's saying...'The boy I love is up in the gallery'.
Note that in the large mirror, it's the little boy who stands alone; his guardian becomes a mere shadow. The Stuart Putti (cherubs) are very apparent.
That Sickert painted Eddie in naval uniform in the 'gallery box painting' again tends to suggest that Eddy's relationship with the lovely Mary Jane began when he was about twenty, before he entered the Kings Royal Hussars.
Notice the little boy behind Mary Kelly, wearing his cap. Mary sits to the left of the gentleman (on his right).
Sickert art critic Richard Shone suggests that this one ..'has a wit and suavity far removed from the spectral visions of the Old Bedford or the Middlesex.' (hence, perhaps, the critics' placing it at 1906.) It's lively, raw and unashamed, certainly, but contrary to Shone's assertion it's clearly dynamically connected to the 'spectral visions of the Old Bedford'. The lady in the exotic hat, sitting next to Prince Eddie is quite definitely the lady watching the little Dot Hetherington's performance of 'The boy I Love is up in The Gallery' alongside Prince Eddy in the original sketches (shown above). Mary Kelly. Here though, she's wearing a slightly less flamboyant, more French hat. On close inspection of the painting (above) the lady in the precocious hat is modest, gentle, bashful even; her lover in his Naval attire draws very slightly closer, watching her from his position . They appear to be either the early stages of a relationship, or experiencing self consciousness that had been induced by the gentleman's protracted absence while meeting up during a visit to France.
One of the key themes in the final 'Jack the Ripper' victim Mary Kelly's story in the inquest documents (as told by her friend Joe Barnett) is that in the mid eighteen eighties a 'Gentleman' took her to France for a couple of weeks. Walker Sickert's pictures seem to suggest that this "couple of weeks" was spent participating in a Catholic 'Stuart' marriage,which would not have been legitimate in England; this is not to say a marriage between Edde and Mary did not take place in England aswell. History denotes that Stuart couples frequently took part in legitimized, second marriages, which were approved by the Pope. Marriages originally took place between confederate Stuarts as a matter of urgency; they were later made known, and approved by the Catholic Church. Such as, presumably, the one that took place between Eddy and Mary Kelly in France.
Note that there's a little boy in his cap, seated behind the couple, with a rather sweet little expression on his face. He's just behind Mary Kelly. He doesn't immediately present to the observer. But he's there in the picture, 'up in the gallery'.
Note also that the key figures 'up in the gallery', Prince Eddy, Mary Kelly and Jo(e), are seated in front of a mirror that reflects a girl who's apparently singing on stage, who wears a rather lovely red dress, evocative of late eighteenth century wear. Recall that the secondary title of a painting, often the title of a music hall song, evokes a painting's hidden secret that's demonstrated over a series of paintings. On this occasion, the title evokes the French Music Hall itself. ' La Gaiété Rauchouart' ,
Sickert's 'Gatti's Hungerford Palace of Varieties: Second Turn of Miss Katie Lawrence', 1887. Currently in The Gallery of New South Wales, Sidney. First exhibited in the Beaux Arts Gallery in London, 1933, no.15.
It might escape the viewer that Eddy and Mary, in the row closest to us, (Eddy in his early eighties bowler hat, as previously depicted, and Mary in more formal extravagant head wear) are presented together for all to see, though of course we only see the backs of their heads. No one wants to drag the Special Operations executive into an analysis unnecessarily but we might observe that this is a classic old school Secret Service deception trick. Make the key subjects all too apparent, and no one will see them. This painting and others is further explored under ' Eddy and Mary'.
D.S. McColls' wry 1895 summary in the The Spectator is interesting: he feels that Sickert expressed ' a private sentiment for the stage and the footlights, such as men feel for the fields and sunlight; but this does not further him much with a public that resents the stage in pictures almost as much as a play in church....'
Walter Sickert's painting were full of both the stage and the church.
Painting 'audience involvement with the Theatre and Music Hall scene' was the background upon which Sickert could skillfully portray 1880's Jacobite secrets and Special Branch counter activity . Jacobite Secrets were woven into the play between audience and artiste.
Little Dot and her '..The boy I Love is Up in the Gallery' communicate more to the penultimate audience ( us) than anything they might do if they'd merely been set on stage to communicate a simple Music Hall song.
Sickert often uses figures on stage to indicate a deeper plot. Painted audiences, an essential feature distinguishing Walter Sickert's work form that of his contempories are often witnesses to secret scenes as well as to whatever might be happening on stage. (We also look at this under 'Mary Kelly', at numerous examples of Walter Sickert's paintings of Prince Eddy and Mary.)
'We found our host in a huge, bare carpetless barn engulfed in shadows, thick with dust and the odor of paint and cigars, stacked with canvases and lit by a bull’s eye lantern. ….A horsehair sofa, draped with his black, Venetian cape, stood beside the blazing fire; deep chairs and a kettle singing on the hob. A table stood beneath the windows, littered with drawings; there was a dresser decorated with China and various ornaments which were constantly being changed. …..The right-hand side of the room was furnished with the stove and a huge shelf packed with canvases; by the door stood an iron bedstead covered with a honeycomb quilt and a Victorian Book-case handing above. He had two fervent crazes at the moment, crime and the princes of the Church; crime personified by Jack the Ripper, and the Church by Anthony Trollope. Thus, we had the robber’s lair, illumined solely by the bull’s eye lantern; when he was reading Trollope we had the dean’s bedroom, complete with iron bedstead, quilt and bookcase’. (Mj.)
An association between subversive, underground Catholicism, ( Jacobite activity), and the beautiful ‘big brass bed’ ( featuring in the series that speaks of Annie Crook and Mary Kelly, otherwise 'La Jospehina and La Carolina' pervaded the ante-room at the Frith as it must have done throughout 1880- 1890………..‘The ecclesiastical flavor so congenial to him was somewhat marred by the red Bill Sykes handkerchief dangling from the bed-post; but the presence of this incongruous article in the ‘deans room’ was not a passing whim; it was an important factor in the process of creating his picture, a lifeline to guide the train of his thought, as necessary as the napkin which Mozart used to fold into points when he was composing. Sickert was working now on one of his ‘Camden Town Murders’ and while he was living the scene he would assume the part of a ruffian, knotting the kerchief loosely around his neck, pulling a cap over his eyes and lighting his lantern. Immobile, sunk deep into his chair, lost on the long shadows of the vast room, he would meditate for hours…it played a necessary part in the performance of the drawings, becoming so interwoven with the actual working out of his idea that he kept it constantly before his eyes. How it affected his preoccupation with church dignitaries I cannot presume to say but there seemed to be a sort of mysterious connection there, too. With gusto, he would refer to his clerical set as he wound the red handkerchief round his neck…'
Walter Sickert’s reclusive ante-room at the ‘Frith’ along the passageway leading from behind the high shire horse gate was alight in the London night with the spirit of confederacy. Clerical works, back street attire one might readily associate with Charles Dickens’s early studies, Oliver, Dodger, Fagin, the boys and their telegrams and old degenerates suggestive of Bill Sykes permeated the place; Victorian bookshelves laden with manuscript treasures beckoned from above the brass bed.
‘ His easel, graced by the canvas he was working on at the time, filled the centre of the room; beside it a glass topped table, constructed by himself, which served as a palette; at the side of the easel he had pinned a reproduction of ‘His Mother’s Voice’ by Frank Dicksee, ‘to Inspire me’, as he gravely explained…'..
While it abounded with all the trappings of subterfuge at night, the anteroom at number 15, Fitzroy Street swiftly vacated itself in the crisp light of day. ‘We soon got used to transformation scenes at the Frith. After the robbers lair, the dean’s bedroom; then the studio would become a sort of parlour overnight with strange or banal objects conjured up from heaven knows where, which vanished on the morrow as soon as suddenly as they came. How Sickert procured his numerous chattels, what he did when he got bored with them or they had served their purposes, will remain one of the world's mysteries...'
The following painting ( see below, & click to enlarge) ' The P.S. Wings in a O.P. Mirror' was painted in 1889, apparently an epilogue to what we've been calling the 'Stalls and Gallery' series. The Daily Star, 1889, reported ' ....the low toned audience is admirably contrasted with the reflection of the brilliant red figure and the feeling of reflected light with which all the picture is filled is admirably suggested.'..
At first glance, the painting seems to suggest a singer involved in some intense soliloquy, directing her discourse towards an audience seated to the left of the stalls. On closer inspection it becomes clear that the audience are seated in front of a gold framed mirror in which the stage- girl is reflected; they watch the stage, as she sings to them face on.
'O. F' stands for 'Off Prompt' side of the stage, and 'P. S' stands for 'Prompt side.' According to the title, the 'Prompt' side of the stage is reflected in an 'Off prompt' mirror. The 'formal scripted' scene is reflected in an 'unscripted' mirror that alters the message that the painting communicates entirely. Instead of a simple singer and a Music Hall audience, we're again looking at a secret message, one that has its origins 'off stage', where Sickert, the invisible prompter, is sitting.
The original title ( possibly containing a reference to a Music Hall song) was lost, and the 1880's Music Hall singer upon whom Sickert modeled the stage persona who appears in this painting has never been formally identitifed. However, through her red dress, and the manner in which she sings to the audience, face on, reflected in a mirror, we can connect her to the singer who appears in the mirror behind Mary and Prince Eddy in 'La Gaieté Rauchuart' , ( above) who wore a more strikingly eighteenth century attire, (and, as with 'little Dot', we ought to be able to trace the original little music hall artiste upon whom this 'Catholic messenger' was modeled via the song that forms the Painting's title.)
Look at the woman whose eyes are closed, whose veil is slowly lifted from her face. She's dead. Yet she's sitting upright, even though face suggests she's lying in a tomb. Yet she's beginning to waken ,as the girl sings her red painful song ,and blood red light covers the hall. The lady's bowler hatted companion beside her, also dead , eyes closed, hears the messenger's voice. A mortuary veil is being lifted from his eyes. His companion, to his right, is already awake. (This one's cloth cap lends him the appearance of an Irish Fenian rebel, but his features are intriguing. They call to mind the early portraits of Charles II.)
Notice the little girl's wearing the Scottish beret, favorite of the clans who supported the Bonnie Prince Charlie in his assault on the English throne. Her shadow, to the left of the mirror, emphasizes her headgear and takes the shape of a beret clad Scottish clan member, apparently with sideburns, peering out at us...!
Walter Sickert drew these celebrated Scots for the lost Prince, 'Jo. ( below.) We can see what the shadow of the headgear mean more clearly in the little sketch (below).
Left: Bonnie Charlie's highlanders. In Walter Sickert's secret unpublished sketch collection- drawn for the little prince. Compare the pictures of the Highlanders against the shadow in the mirror in Walter Sickert's painting.
The 'dead has arisen', (and Commissioner Anderson, Special Branch , Chief John Littlechild and Undersecretary Jenkinson rub their brows in dismay. )
The prophet is calling a lost Kingdom from the tomb....
The Jacobites are here.....!