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Sickert.  By Rayner.  This 1926 oil on board dates from the period when Sickert was a visiting lecturer at the Royal Academy Schools

When Walter Richard Sickert started teaching at the Royal Academy Schools in 1925, one of his students was a tall blond Australian called Hewitt Rayner, who had started at the Schools in May of that year.

Sickert saw something interesting in Rayner’s work and, unusually, purchased one of his pictures - a large oil painting titled ‘The dying clown’. This work (now lost), with its unusual perspective, was based on one of the ‘living tableaux’ Sickert had set up for his class at the RA Schools. 

Rayner, in turn, couldn't believe his luck in having Sickert as a teacher.  Here was a man who provided a direct link back to Whistler, Degas and other figures whose work had captivated Rayner in his teens.

The teacher/student relationship evolved into a genuine friendship, and Sickert and Rayner  met regularly until the mid 1930s when Sickert moved to live in Bath.  Rayner regarded Sickert as his mentor in all things to do with art, and kept notes on many of the things his ‘master’ said and did. These notes formed a central part of a long autobiographical manuscript Rayner completed in 1938. It was never published. 

When Rayner left the RA Schools prematurely in 1926, Sickert continued to tutor him. First at his studio in Fitzroy Street, then later at his house in Barnsbury Park and his studio at Highbury Place.

As well as giving Rayner the benefit of his guidance on art matters, Sickert also opened the door to a world that the younger man found endlessly fascinating.   He introduced his young protegé to contemporaries such as Nina Hamnett and Philip Wilson Steer. On one occasion in 1927, Rayner found himself lunching in Chelsea with Sickert, celebrated author Arnold Bennett, and Australian portrait painter James Quinn. Rayner’s eye-witness accounts of meetings such as this make fascinating reading.