W.R. Sickert,
Brighton Pierrots

Gallery 47, The Sands Gallery,
Early 20th Century Art, First Floor



Focus on the Object

About the Painting


The scene is of a live performance on Brighton beach near the Palace Pier. At the time performances of songs and dances by pierrots and pierrettes were common at British sea-side resorts. During August and September 1915 Sickert stayed in Brighton at a friend’s house and visited the pierrots every night for five weeks to draw them on the stage. The onset of nightime is evoked by the use of dusky colours and the presence of the lamps which illuminate the stage.


Prior to his visit to Brighton, Sickert was occupied with etching in black on white. The vibrant colour of Brighton Pierrots has been interpreted as a release from the constraints of etching.

Sickert was influenced by Degas’s idea of “key-hole painting”, a self-explanatory term which describes this picture well. A pole bisects the work and obscures our view of one of the performers and it is as though we are really seeing what was in front of the artist.


It has been said that Sickert’s best works combine melancholy and vitality. In this work we witness vitality in the pinks and reds and in the movement of the performers, but this is juxtaposed by other sombre colours and the listless onlookers which create a mood of sadness. The audience is depleted and most of the deckchairs are empty as though a large part of the potential onlookers have been called off to fight in the war.