Like hundreds, possibly thousands of 'Etrangers' living in France I journeyed to my administrative centre, in my case Alencon, to complete my application for residency in France. I had thought it a simple straightforward thing to do but providing photographs and having my fingerprints taken was a more disconcerting and reflective process than I had anticipated. I had been, up to a few months ago, a European, a situation I was very happy with, proud of I suspect. Now I had become a foreign resident in what had become a foreign land. How narrowing are the nationalistic notions of much of the population of my native country. So, still British, no longer European but now determinedly Continental. Walter Sickert, one of the fathers of contempory English art had been resolutely Continental. Camden and Dieppe had been twin inspirations, he keenly chronicled life in both and felt an Etranger in neither.
Sickert had close links with Dieppe from his childhood, a regular visitor for over 40 years and a resident from 1898 to 1905. This French connection set him artistically and culturally apart from his contempories in England. Dieppe had a large British expat community and hosted visitors, writers and artists from across the channel all the year round. Rothenstein writes, " Smithers, Symons, Beardsley, Dowson and Conder used often to run over to Dieppe, with it's harbour and quays, it's beautiful churches and dignified streets it had long attracted artists............. I remember Beardsley, Condor and Dowson starting off from the Crown one night, wandering about London, and taking the early boat-train to Dieppe without any luggage......... Beardsley and Dowson coming back a few days later looking the worse for wear. Conder stayed on."
Sickert had been a long time visitor and in 1912 he bought a villa, ten miles from Dieppe, the war of course interrupted his French life but he returned in 1919 with the intention of settling permanently, this time was dogged by his wife's ill health and untimely death. He returned to England in 1922.
In Dieppe, influenced by Degas and his friendships with painters like Monet and Pissarro he developed and honed his own individual style and practice. His open mind and continental connection helped elevate him to greatness. We must hope that the jingoistic mood that pervades the sycophantic Tory right in England will at some point dissipate and the shared cultural heritage we have always enjoyed and benefited from will be fostered once more.
AGED AND AWKWARD