The Old Bedford Music Hall

This print called “The old Bedform Music Hall” by Walter Sickert is published in the second volume of The Yellow Nineties periodical in the art section on page 220. This image was considered to be part of the Urban realism movement that Sickert was seeking to promote by connecting art to the life of the everyday working person. He sought to remove class and social standing from legitimized forms of art. The publishing of this print in a popular periodical was legitimizing the nature of the print, and in turn, promoting a new understanding of the domestic life, shifting social views. This image was Sickert sharing his passion for the stage with viewers, and creating interest out of the ordinary. 


 This image is through the medium of a print, but it was originally sketched while Sickert was at the music hall – making it lively and capture of authentic working-class life. The title “The Old Bedford Musical Hall” points to the setting of the print, the image captures a female performer at the Bedford Music Hall in Camden, London, during the late 1800s. The female performer is on stage and she is singing to the boisterous crowd. The chairs in the foreground of the image indicated that the perspective is coming from the gallery of the music hall. There are people sitting in the hall, and it is visible that there are men who are at the front. This performer and spectator relationship is telling of the power dynamics that are being ascribed to women on stage. The male gaze is being captured, this sexualized woman is providing the audience with a show that is sexually entertaining, but not to the extent of a brothel. Women in performance entertainment were often seen as being low in society and even legitimizing the print of a performing woman as ‘artistic’ was taboo. What is interesting about this image is that it shows the reflection of the dancer in the Music Halls’ mirrors. Most of the outdated halls that were built in the 1840s, had mirrors put up along the sides to give the appearance of there being more people than there actually were. This allowed the audience to see different parts of the room, as well as themselves, and made for illusions that contributed to the mystic of the performance. 


 The contrast and the use of black ink indicate to the dimness and the shadows of the show, creating a dark and sultry atmosphere. The image sits along on the page, and it has The Yellow Nitines notorious large white margins. The image is tonal, as it works to give a realistic perception of light bouncing off the stage, contributing to the sense of the women as a  “spectacle”. 

Works Cited

Rough, William W. “Walter Richard Sickert and the Theatre, C.1880-C.1940.” University of St Andrews, September, 2010. 

Sickert, Walter. “The Old Bedford Music Hall.” The Yellow Book 2 (July 1894): 221. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2010. Web. [Date of access].