Beaverbrook - Sickert's 'Political Portrait'

Richard Shone looks at the foray into portraiture of a leading British artist and reflects on the tensions of painter-patron relations in the cultural climate of 1930s Britain.

My portrait is and remains a political portrait in the grand manner by a painter who appreciates and admires your policy'. So wrote Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942) in 1935 to Lord Beaverbrook about one of his most striking and successful late portraits.

When Sickert painted his celebrated portrait of Beaverbrook he had become, in his early seventies, a curious mixture of grey-haired enfant terrible and unpredictable Grand Old Man of British art. His reputation rested on his paintings of the Victorian music-hall, his views of Venice and Dieppe and on his Camden Town interiors such as the famous 'Ennui', then in the Tate Gallery. But since the late 1920s he had gained notoriety for works based on nineteenth-century engravings (a series known as 'English Echoes') and on photographs, either especially taken or culled from the daily press.

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