Born in Munich, of Danish and Anglo-Irish descent, Walter Sickert came to England from Dieppe in 1868 and remained cosmopolitan all his life. Classically educated, he spent some years in repertory theatre (1878-81), then attended the Slade School, London (1881-2), and worked in Whistler's studio, learning Etching and a characteristic subtlety of tonal painting. Between 1883 and 1885 he was in close contact with Degas and the Post-Impressionists, in Paris and Dieppe. In Venice from 1895, he returned to England in 1905, becoming the main link between English and continental painting. His north London studios became the centre for several artistic groups, including the Camden Town Group and the London Group; a member of the New English Art Club from 1888, he became ARA in 1924 and RA in 1934, although he resigned in 1935. He was an inspired teacher at Westminster Art School until 1918, and thereafter at various short-lived establishments of his own. Unsystematic but articulate in his theories of art, he gained a reputation as critic and commentator and his writings were published posthumously in A Free House! (1947), edited by Osbert Sitwell.
Eclectic and highly personal, Sickert's style changed throughout his career: the low-toned naturalism of his Camden Town period (La Hollandaise, 1906; Ennui, 1914; both London, Tate); the free impressionism of his architectural studies in Venice, Dieppe, and Bath; the bright lights and strange angles of his music hall paintings; and his late works, frequently based on photographs, light in colour with a drier, broader touch. A self-declared maverick, fascinated by all aspects of human life and emotion, he stands at the beginning of the modern movement in British art; a crucial influence on his own and subsequent generations.