Pulteney Bridge, Bath

  • About the work
    Country: UK
    City: London
    Place: HM Treasury, 1 Horse Guards Road

    Walter Sickert painted Pulteney Bridge in Bath many times as it allowed him to paint a landscape with a rich combination of sky, land, water, buildings and foliage. He also liked the fact that it afforded a glimpse of the countryside beyond the historic city. In each of these versions, he varied the angle of the composition and the tonal range slightly, while there is a greater contrast in the size and finish of each work. 

    Pulteney Bridge is a rare example of a bridge lined with shops. Designed by the eminent architect, Robert Adam, it was commissioned by Sir William Pulteney, to provide an approach to his large estate across the River Avon from the city of Bath. Adam had visited Italy and his bridge is clearly influenced by the ancient Ponte Vecchio in Florence and the Rialto Bridge in Venice.  It was completed in 1770 and was much altered over the centuries, but was restored to Adam’s original vision in the latter part of the 20th century. Many of Sickert’s townscapes of Bath were based on photographs, often taken by his wife, Thérèse Lessore. This painting dates from some time after the end of 1938 when Sickert moved to St George’s Hill House in Bathampton, on the outskirts of Bath. During the last years of his life, he was increasingly confined to the house and produced works that mainly depicted his immediate surroundings.

    Sickert’s output was vast. A painter who worked chiefly in the figurative tradition, he is known for his depictions of music hall performers, audiences and elaborate theatrical interiors. Other subjects included intimate interiors (often of Camden Town), Dieppe and Venetian street scenes and, most commonly, the female nude. Throughout his life, Sickert courted controversy. His paintings were sometimes considered lurid and criticised for their portrayal of vice and sexual immorality. 

  • About the artist
    Born in Munich, Walter Richard Sickert was a British artist of mixed Dutch and Danish parentage. He abandoned an acting career in 1881 to briefly enter the Slade School of Art in London, before apprenticing under James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903) in 1882. During a visit to Paris in 1883, he was introduced to Edgar Degas who inspired Sickert's practice of using figure and location drawings made ‘on the spot’ to produce finished paintings back in the studio. During the 1890s he chiefly painted portraits in London and townscapes in Dieppe. From 1905 he lived in the Camden Town area and in 1911 established the Camden Town group of artists. In 1934 Sickert moved to Broadstairs in Kent with Thérèse Lessore, his third wife, and then again near Bath in 1938. He received few official honours in his lifetime but a major retrospective of his work was held before his death, with posthumous exhibitions at Tate Britain in 1960, and the Courtauld Gallery, London, in 2007–2008.
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  • Details
    Pulteney Bridge, Bath
    Oil on canvas
    height: 81.80 cm, width: 91.80 cm
    Purchased from Mayor Gallery, September 1964
    bl: Sickert.
    Collection of Mrs Mattei and Mrs Ricardo; sold through Sotheby's, London, on 22 July 1964 (Lot 128); with Mayor Gallery, London; from whom purchased by the Ministry of Works in September 1964
    GAC number