High-Steppers shows the Plaza Tiller Girls, known for their high-kicking long legs, who worked at the Plaza Cinema, near Piccadilly Circus in London. During the 1920s, various dance troupes became affiliated with specific cinemas, the star attraction in what was known as cine-variety - films alternating with live music and performance. Sickert worked directly from a photograph published in the London Evening News, originally a film still recording the Tiller Girls' appearance in the film ‘A Little Bit of Fluff'.
Sickert lived abroad from 1898-1905 and was inspired by his time in Paris, and in particular by his friendship with the French painter Edgar Degas. Degas's talent for creating the effect of spontaneity in paint and his depictions of the modern figure in Paris influenced Sickert who sought to represent his own vision of London and urban life.
'High-Steppers' is probably Sickert's last painting to show a theatre scene, one of his favourite subjects. It is his third painting of the Plaza Tiller Girls, a dance troupe who performed at the Plaza cinema in Piccadilly, entertaining the audience before the start of the film. Although Sickert was a frequent visitor to the theatre, he never made any drawings or paintings there; instead, he preferred to work from press photographs. All three paintings of the Plaza Tiller Girls were based on a photograph which appeared in The Evening News in 1927.
Sickert was born in Munich to parents of Danish origin but British nationality. He settled in London with his parents in 1868. Sickert initially trained as an actor but in 1881 he began studying at the Slade School of Fine Art, London. He was a pupil of Whistler and also worked with Degas in Paris two years later. Degas influenced Sickert's use of informal compositions and subject matter, particularly his fondness for theatre scenes. In the late 1920s, Sickert would often select images from newspapers to make into paintings, squaring them up to transfer straight onto canvas.