Walter Sickert, Dieppe Races, 1920-26, oil on canvas, 50.6 x 61.1 cm, Birmingham Museums Trust on behalf of Birmingham City Council, Image courtesy of Birmingham Museums Trust
Though Sickert was best known for making townscapes in Dieppe, it was in his landscapes that he was able to develop his mature painting style. In 1912 he and his new wife Christine Angus bought a house in Envermeu in the valley of the Eaulne river, ten miles inland from Dieppe. Here, during the summers of 1913 and 1914, he painted several rural subjects featuring open countryside and lush woodland. In these works it is possible to trace his progression away from the thickly encrusted paint surfaces favoured by the Impressionists and his colleagues in the Camden Town Group.
After leaving France in autumn 1914, Sickert was unable to visit the Dieppe region during the First World War. When he returned with Christine in 1919 he immediately resumed painting the landscape around Envermeu. Having suffered ill-health for much of her adult life, Christine succumbed to tuberculosis in October 1920. Devastated by her death, Sickert wrote in a letter to his sister-in-law Andrina Schweder, ‘One of my last Envermeu pictures was called ‘The Happy Valley’. But I can’t bear the sight of those scenes now. They are like still-born children’.