|A Ripper Notes Article|
|This article originally appeared in Ripper Notes No. 39, February 2002. Ripper Notes is the only American Ripper periodical available on the market, and has quickly grown into one of the more substantial offerings in the genre. For more information, view our Ripper Notes page. Our thanks to the editor of Ripper Notes for permission to reprint this article.|
Yet another suggestion made is that Walter Sickert, the painter, was Jack the Ripper. The reason for Sickert being suspected is that he was believed to have made sketches and paintings of the Ripper crimes... 1.
This quote from Donald McCormick’s The Identity of Jack the Ripper is the earliest suggestion in a book dealing with the Whitechapel murders that Walter Sickert had been suspected of being the Whitechapel murderer. That is of secondary importance here. This article is not so much a look at Walter Sickert’s candidacy for being the Whitechapel murderer, as it is a look at the suggestion that Sickert had made sketches and paintings of the Ripper crimes and what this might mean.
According to Steven Knight, McCormick lost his notes and so we will never know where he obtained this bit of information, but we have at least two other sources which tell us that Sickert had seen and painted the bodies of at least some of the Ripper victims, and now there is a third voice to add to this chorus.
The television show Primetime Thursday which aired on 6 December 2001 on the ABC television network has certainly stirred up a lot of controversy, although not much debate. Patricia Cornwell’s “100% positive” belief in the guilt of painter Walter Richard Sickert in being Jack the Ripper is seen by most as at best far- fetched, and at worst slanderous. This contention is not new, of course, and was put forth in Stephen Knight’s 1976 book, Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution and also by Jean Overton Fuller in her 1990 book, Sickert & The Ripper Crimes.
Part of Ms Cornwell’s investigation has centered on the Impressionist style of Sickert’s art, and it is her contention that several of his paintings seem to show an inside knowledge of theWhitechapel kkiller and the murders. Indeed, so important is the art of Walter Sickert to Ms Cornwell’s theory that in response to the question ‘What is the first thing that you spot that makes you go, “Walter Sickert”’, Ms Cornwell answered, ‘His paintings.’ 2.
What is it about the paintings of this British impressionist that have caused this evaluation? Is there any validity to the theory of Knight, Overton-Fuller and Cornwell that Walter Sickert has shown first hand knowledge of the Whitechapel murders through his art? Did Walter Richard Sickert indeed practice the art of murder?
In order to look at this compelling question, it is necessary to divide Sickert’s work into separate categories in order to examine the various claims made against him. Before beginning, I should give one explanatory note: the dates given for Sickert’s works vary depending on the art expert consulted. I have thus used here the dates given by Wendy Baron and Richard Shone. Baron is the foremost expert on the life and works of Walter Sickert and most, but certainly not all, art experts have bowed to her superior knowledge of the subject. Baron has also been used by Steven Knight while both Baron and Shone were used by Overton-Fuller and Cornwell. First, an overall look at Walter Richard Sickert and his work:
THE ART OF WALTER SICKERT
Walter Richard Sickert was born in Munich on 31 May 1860 to an English mother, Eleanor, and a Danish father.3. The father, Oswald Sickert, was an artist employed in Germany as an illustrator for a comic journal. In 1868 the family emigrated to England; first to Bradford and then the following year to London.
Sickert left school at the age of 18. Unable to pay for university and having drawn all his life, he wished to follow in his father’s footsteps and become an artist. Discouraged from this by his father, he turned instead to the stage where from the years 1879 to 1880 he found some success, (at times using the pseudonym Mr. Nemo), with small parts under the direction of Henry Irving and other well-known actors. It was in May of 1879 that Sickert first met the American artist James McNeil Whistler, a meeting that would change his life.
Turning full time to painting from acting, Sickert first exhibited his work at the Fine Art Society in London in 1881. In October of that year he signed up for classes at both the Slade School and Heathely’s School of Art in London. In 1882 Sickert dropped out of these schools and at the invitation of Whistler became his pupil and studio assistant.
It was from Whistler that Sickert learned to paint alla prima, which is to say, from nature, and quickly, pushing wet paint around a canvas in order to capture a scene or setting in a single sitting. Although Sickert was uncomfortable with this method, he did learn to paint details using only a few strokes of the brush. Whistler also taught Sickert his Symbolist esthetic which created an "evocation of mystery and indeterminancy which was to last, in one form or another, throughout his career."4. These elements, combined with his work as a tonal painter (one who studies and paints the contrasts of light and dark), united to create the aspects of Sickert’s work that make some of his subjects faces appear to be mutilated.
It is this aspect of Sickert’s work that has become the Rorschach test of Ripperology. Meaning is divined from the indistinct features of Sickert’s subjects, and we are told to look at a painting and describe which Ripper victim we see. With Sickert, however, it is very hard to tell what might be shadow and what might be blood. Like the Rorschach test, you see what you want to see.
In April of 1883, Sickert was entrusted with taking Whistler's Portrait of the Artist's Mother to Paris, where it was to be shown. Armed with letters of introduction to Manet and Degas, Sickert journeyed to the French capital, where he found Manet too ill to see him. Degas received the young painter, however, and they started a friendship which lasted until Degas' death in 1917.
Sickert's early work was thus influenced by both Whistler and Degas, and it was from the French impressionist that he learned to make many sketches, to set a scene first on paper before transferring his ideas to the canvas in the studio. This long and laborious process, basically the traditional method of oil painting, suited Sickert’s temperament much more than Whistler’s quick, almost instant paintings. It was also Degas’ influence that started Sickert painting the London music halls and their audiences. Degas painted "the everyday, the lives and experiences of the people of Paris",5 and this concept of the "frank depiction of the world around him"6 which Sickert adopted as his own, began both his reputation as "the outstanding figure of his time in British art",7 as well as the reputation of someone who delved into the seamier side of life.
In 1885 he married Ellen Cobden, the daughter of a Liberal politician and twelve years his senior. The couple visited the Netherlands and Munich before spending the summer in Dieppe, as he had for many summers before and as he would do for many years to come. Sickert had been fluent in French from a young age and he felt that although he lived in Britain, France was his spiritual home. On their return from France he and Ellen moved into 54 Broadhurst Gardens, South Hampstead where Sickert used the top floor as his studio.
This fact is important when it becomes clear that Sickert had no other studio in London after his 1885 marriage for the rest of the 1880's. Certainly no studio in Cleveland Street - as Joseph Gorman Sickert has said he had - and also not the three "secret"studios in Whitechapel as both Stephen Knight and Patricia Cornwell have claimed. The three Whitechapel studios are apparently a confusion with the three studios Sickert had in North London in 1905 at 8 Fitzroy Street, 76 Charlotte Street 8 and his rooms at 6 Mornington Crescent, Camden Town, where the landlady had told him the tale of a veterinary student whom she claimed was the Ripper.
Over the next few years, Sickert exhibited his works in several exhibitions and also taught art at a school he opened in London under Whistler's patronage. By 1896 he was separated from his wife, their relationship strained by his constant infidelities and "chronic independence".9 The couple divorced in 1899, with Sickert losing the financial security of his wife’s fortune. Sickert's friendship with Whistler had also been strained, and finally ended in 1897 after a libel suit in which Sickert was one of the defendants and Whistler appeared as a witness for the prosecution. It was soon after this point, when Sickert was finally gaining a solid reputation in London, that he closed his studio, packed his belongings and moved to Dieppe in the Autumn of 1898. In 1899 Sickert moved to Neuville, just outside of Dieppe, and lived with Mme. Augustine Villain, a fish merchant, and her children. Mme. Villain’s son, Maurice, was almost certainly Sickert’s and thus Patricia Cornwell’s theory of Sickert’s sterility is brought into question.
Sickert did not return to London until February 1905 when he acquired his studios in Fitzroy and Charlotte Streets. He then journeyed back to France, where he exhibited in Paris, and returned to live permanently in London later that same year.10
Back in London, Sickert’s work consisted almost entirely of music hall scenes and the faded life he saw around him in Camden Town. "He revelled in the faded splendours of dingy lodging-rooms in Camden Town."11 As we shall see, this was the period when virtually all of the paintings identified as being of Whitechapel victims were done. He taught at the Westminster Institute, started a school for etching, and held shows in both London and Paris.
In September 1907, a part-time prostitute named Emily Elizabeth Dimmock, also known as Phyllis, was found murdered in her bed at 29 St Paul’s Road, Camden Town. Known in the press as the “Camden Town Murder,” Sickert began to title several drawings, sketches and paintings with this descriptor. Joseph Gorman Sickert has made the claim that these works actually represent Mary Kelly.
In 1911 Sickert founded the Camden Town Group, which was later renamed the London Group, and also married Christine Angus, a student of his and seventeen years his junior. In October of 1920, Christine died. Sickert’s behaviour at Christine’s graveside, when he supposedly opened the urn containing her ashes and flung some of the ash at the mourners, is seen by Patricia Cornwell as a sign of Sickert’s psychopathy, but considering his behaviour over the next several years, it was more likely a display of his intense grief. Sickert seems to have suffered a breakdown after his wife’s death and his behavior became more erratic and eccentric as time passed. The death of his mother in February 1922 added to his depression and morbid imagination.
Sickert’s life stabilized in June of 1926 when he married long time friend Thérèse Lessore who would remain his companion and guardian for the rest of his life.12 Unfortunately, Sickert suffered some debilitating illness, possibly a stroke, only months after his wedding. It would take the better part of the year for him to recover.
In 1924 Sickert became an associate member of the Royal Academy, becoming an academician a decade later. But shortly afterwards he resigned in protest against attacks on the works of his friend Jacob Epstein (later Sir Jacob Epstein) by the president of the Academy.
It was in his declining years that Sickert began to paint entirely from photographs. He had done this from time to time for most of his career and as a painter he never painted anything that was not in front of him, be it from life, or from sketches and drawings done earlier, or from photographs. His paintings from this period were either panned as being unartistic copies or hailed as some of his best and most interesting work.
In 1941 Sickert was honored with a one-man exhibition at the National Gallery in London. The next year he died in Bath, where he is buried, on 22 January 1942.
EASY VIRTUE, ELLIPSES AND ELISIONS
Several general questions have been raised about Walter Sickert’s art and its supposed connection to the Whitechapel murders. Patricia Cornwell, for instance, has pointed out that Sickert liked to paint prostitutes. That this would be considered to be ‘evidence’, albeit circumstantial, is perplexing. Sickert did indeed paint prostitutes as did many artists of his day - Degas, Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec all used prostitutes as models. They were some of the few women that could be easily found to pose naked for an artist in late- Victorian and early-Edwardian society.
It is also important to ask at what point in his artistic career did Sickert start to paint prostitutes? Around the time of the Ripper murders? No, this began much later in his career in Dieppe and Venice. Before that he had painted mostly landscapes, cityscapes and some portraits. He started painting a series of nudes lying on iron bedsteads in Neuville in 1902, and although the models were not necessarily prostitutes, Sickert did begin painting prostitutes in Venice in 1903-1904.
As Sickert wrote to Jacques-Emile Blanche from Venice "From 9 to 4, it is an uninterrupted joy, caused by these pretty, little, obliging models who laugh and unembarrassedly be themselves while posing like angels. They are glad to be there, and are not in a hurry." 13 These are not the words of a practised serial killer talking about his preferred victims but rather an artist who is enjoying the free and easy-going nature of his new models.
Another aspect of Sickert’s work has been commented on by Stephen Knight: the titles of various paintings. Sickert often re-titled his work, and so one painting might have two or three titles. A working title might change into a finished title at one exhibit, which might then change again for another showing. Sickert enjoyed using titles that told the story of the painting or offered the viewer an interpretation of the painting. He did this with such abandon that no real significance should be taken from the title of any Sickert painting.
For an example, look at his supposed Ripper related painting The Camden Town Murder, also titled What Shall We Do For the Rent? (circa 1908). The painting is of a man sitting on the edge of a bed, eyes downcast. Behind him lies a naked woman. With the title The Camden Town Murder, the woman is obviously dead and the man is either her killer, filled with remorse, or her lover who has found the body and who sits in stunned mourning. Change to the alternate title - What Shall We Do For the Rent? - and now the picture is totally different. The man sits on the bed feeling the weight of his financial problems while his wife or girlfriend lies next to him, her hand gently resting on his knee, offering him some small, tender support.
Sickert knew exactly what effect would be generated from the titles that he chose and he understood how to change a painting merely by changing its title.
CLUES TO THE ROYAL CONSPIRACY
It has been put forward by Joseph Gorman Sickert, Stephen Knight and Jean Overton Fuller that Walter Sickert had consciously and subconsciously sprinkled his works with clues to the Royal Conspiracy, and a handful of paintings have been given as examples to prove this claim. We must now take a short detour from the art of Sickert and explore the claims that he is known to have made about the Whitechapel Murders.
That Walter Sickert did tell a story about the Royal family and their connection with the murders now seems to be established, if we believe Florence Pash’s story and the admittance by Ellen May Lackner, Joseph Gorman Sickert’s first cousin, that Crook family members told a tale of Annie Crook’s love affair with a member of the Royal family. For the purposes of this article, we will accept the proposition that Sickert did indeed tell this story to be true. I am not suggesting, however, that there is any validity to the story - merely that Walter Sickert apparently told it (as early as 1892, if we believe Florence Pash). We must be aware that none of the Sickert story, upon being checked, has proven to be correct. Almost from start to finish the story has been shown to be false or inaccurate or unproven. It must also be understood that much of what we think of as the Sickert Royal/Masonic theory is actually the invention of Steven Knight and not, apparently, Walter Sickert.
The original tale told by Walter Sickert to Florence Pash and Joseph Gorman Sickert, before Joseph turned it into a sort of cottage industry, is quite different from the tale told by Steven Knight, although the love affair and marriage of Prince Albert Victor and the shop girl Annie Crook and the birth of their daughter, Alice, has not changed. Indeed, when Joseph retracted the whole tale in the Sunday Times,14 he still clung to this part of the story.
It is interesting to note that Walter Sickert apparently never mentioned the Masons; instead, he implicated - according to Joseph in his appearance in the BBC television series Jack the Ripper 15 - "various people high in Government and the Royal Household"16. Some might assume these to be Masons, but Sickert made no mention of this or of any Masonic rituals involved in the murders to either Joseph or to Florence Pash. There also appear to be no Masonic clues in any of Sickert’s paintings. Sickert’s original story states that Sir William Gull was asked by the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury (who was not a Mason), to find and silence Mary Kelly, who had disappeared into the East End of London. Gull accomplished this task with the help of coach driver John Netley. Another difference between Knight’s book and the earlier versions of the story was the nature of the blackmail scheme. As we shall see, Sickert did inexplicably use the title ‘Blackmail’ in one of his sketches, but Joseph Gorman Sickert doesn’t mention anything about blackmail; and he claimed that Mary Kelly had been murdered because of the fear that she might talk, not because she had. Florence Pash, on the other hand, seemed to think that Mary Kelly had attempted to blackmail Walter Sickert, who had told her that he had received blackmailing letters. In either case, there is no tale of Mary Kelly and her four friends plotting to blackmail the government. It was decided, as Joseph Gorman Sickert said "to conceal the dangerous motive behind Mary Kelly’s death - and the inquiries they were making for her, she was killed as the last of five women in a way that made it look like the random work of a madman."17.
This is pure Leonard Matters, whose Dr. Stanley was supposed to have done exactly the same thing in his search for Mary Kelly. Did Walter use Matters’ The Mystery of Jack the Ripper, which was first published in 1929, to flesh out his story or did Joseph use it to flesh out his? Part of the tale told to both Joseph Gorman Sickert and Florence Pash contains the claim that some of Walter Sickert’s paintings included clues to the whole Royal/Conspiracy theory, but only a handful have been offered as evidence.
The painting, Amphitryon, (Circa 1924?), also known as X’s Affiliation Order, has been called by Stephen Knight "the richest evidence of all that Sickert littered his art with clues about the case."18 Knight states, "it depicts a gaunt Victorian room with a high ceiling. On the wall in the centre of a fireside alcove is some sort of ornament whose definition is indistinct, but can be nothing other than a death’s head. This age-old harbinger of impending doom is gazing down upon a woman dressed poorly in blouse and long skirt. She is averting her face from its baleful gaze, her hand has been brought to her cheek in despair and a look of anguish is passing across her features. In suggesting that this woman is Marie Kelly with Death staring her in the face, I could justly be accused of allowing my imagination to run riot, except for one thing – the mysterious title of the picture. Like so many of Sickert’s titles, it has never been explained. He gave it two names, X’s Affiliation Order and Amphytrion (sic). Remembering that an affiliation order fixes the paternity of an illegitimate child, can we escape the conclusion that Sickert was recalling the events of Cleveland Street? And who is X? Bearing in mind Sickert’s story about the highest in the land disguising himself as a lessor being, and in that form seducing an ordinary girl and making her pregnant, consider the alternative title of this picture, Amphytrion (sic). The legend of Amphytrion (sic) tells how Jupiter (sic), King of the Gods, the highest in Olympus, disguised himself as a lesser being to seduce an ordinary woman, who became pregnant by him."
Much of Knight’s evidence that this painting contains clues to the Royal/Conspiracy theory stems from his interpretation of the titles, Amphitryon and X’s Affiliation Order. As has already been shown, Sickert would often retitle his paintings, and he went against the trend of using abstract titles which had little to do with the subject of the painting. As Wendy Baron has stated, "Sickert deliberately harked back to Victorian fashion for giving pictures titles suggesting a story."19 This is what we see in Amphitryon. Additionally, Sickert might give a painting a loose working title, then upon finishing it, stand back and imagine what title best reflected the painting. Knight, however, has taken the title and matched it to the Royal/Conspiracy theory in order to interpret its meaning - but has he interpreted the title correctly?
The ancient Greek myth from which the painting gets its name tells the story of Amphitryon of Argolis, (whose grandfather Perseus, who was himself the son of Zeus and a mortal woman, had slain Medusa), who is forced to move to Thebes after an accidental murder. While he is away on an expedition against the Teleboans, Zeus, king of the gods, disguised himself as Amphitryon in order to seduce his wife Alcmene and make her pregnant. Upon his return the next day, Amphitryon coupled with his wife and also made her pregnant. From these acts, two sons were born, Alceides and his twin brother Iphicles. Alceides, renamed by Apollo, would go on to become the great hero Heracles. This is the myth of Amphitryon and the story of the birth of Hercules, as the Romans called him. Not as close to Sickert’s Royal/Conspiracy story as Knight would have us believe!
Amphitryon is no ordinary man, he is the great- grandson of Zeus, and his wife no ordinary woman as Knight had suggested. Also, Knight has got it wrong: the dilemma of the story is not that the woman has become pregnant by a god, but that she has had sex with a stranger disguised as her husband as well as her own husband and is now pregnant. Who is the father of the issue? Thus the alternate title of the painting, X’s Affiliation Order, seems a logical fit if we assume that the woman in the painting represents Alcmene, who is distraught over the question of paternity of her two sons. None of this fits into the Royal/Conspiracy theory as easily as Knight had suggested; indeed, he seems to be trying to pound a square peg into a round hole. I am afraid that there is no proof that this painting in any way represents a clue to Sickert’s fable.
Further evidence of Walter Sickert littering his work with clues to his story is supposed to be evident in a couple of pieces of work which are titled Mrs. Barrett and Blackmail. Here we are on more interesting ground. Stephen Knight describes one of them, a painting of a woman in a large hat, (circa 1906): "Old Walter spoke about another picture, which he had given two names. This was a full face portrait of a square-chinned woman wearing a large hat. It was called Blackmail or Mrs Barrett. No one has been able to explain why it was given either of these titles. Sickert told his son it was a picture of Marie Kelly.... He called it alternatively Mrs Barrett because when she got to Dorset Street Kelly took up with a man called Barrett and was known as his wife. In this Sickert was mistaken, because Kelly’s common-law husband was called Joseph Barnett not Barrett. The painter’s intention was nevertheless as he described it. He called it Blackmail because Kelly was the centre of the blackmail involving the royal bastard."20
Jean Overton Fuller describes this same painting as "the most frightening portrait of a woman I know – the eyes almost hidden within the deep shadow cast by the hat’s large brim, just glinting out”. 21 She also tells us that, "He did three portraits entitled Mrs Barrett. Joseph Sickert told Knight his father had told him they were really of Mary Kelly, although she was long dead when they were done."22
Again, Knight on a pastel sketch, (circa 1905), now the property of the National Gallery of Canada: "Another picture called Blackmail, this one in pastel, depicts a woman sitting demurely in a high-backed chair. Her eyes glazed, the end of her nose appears to be missing and the lack of definition in the lower part of the face renders the mouth non-existent. To a far greater extent, this is what Jack the Ripper did to Marie Kelly."23
Also, this from Knight on another painting titled Mrs Barrett: "This Mrs Barrett was also based on Kelly, Sickert claimed. It is more disturbing than the versions so far mentioned. The subject is this time shown in profile. Her eyes are sunk in deep black shadow like a skull, and her face is deathly pale."24
I will be coming back to the idea that these paintings represent Mary Kelly in a later section, but what are we to make of the titles? Unfortunately, Knight once again gets it wrong. The painting of the woman in the large hat was never titled Blackmail but it was titled Mrs Barrett. This is one of three works with this same name, while a fourth, the pastel sketch now in Canada, was the only one given the title Blackmail: Mrs Barrett. The "Mrs Barrett" works also share similar distinct characteristics with some other paintings and thus seem to be part of a larger series. Several questions thus arise when looking at this larger series of sketches and paintings that depict a woman who may or may not have been named Mrs Barrett: most importantly, who was Mrs Barrett?
Lillian Browse has made the claim that she was Sickert’s cleaning lady, a fact that Martin Howells and Keith Skinner have taken as true, claiming that Browse knew her. Wendy Baron however, states that this is a fact that "is yet to be proved or disproved."25 Baron also seems to feel that all the sketches and paintings of this series represent Mrs Barrett and she goes on to describe her metamorphosis: "Her age seems to fluctuate wildly from shy young woman to care-worn middle age, from distinctive beauty just passed her prime to a figure of glum impassivity."26 This suggests that paintings in this series portray different women, and not just Mary Kelly as Knight believed. This conclusion seems to be supported by the fact that some of the portraits of Mrs Barrett seem to have started out with different titles.
The pastel sketch known as Blackmail: Mrs. Barrett, for example, was discovered to have labels affixed to its back giving its original name as, Poplana Veneziana. 27 Baron says that, "There appears to be no early authority for the title ‘Blackmail’, although it is undeniable that the model bears a close resemblance to some of the painted portraits of Mrs Barrett."28 It is easy to see why she might believe this, as the distinctive hairstyle of the subject in Blackmail is also evident in other works such as Le Journal, (c. 1906), Le Collier de Perles (c. 1907) and a pastel drawing titled Mrs Barrett which was done at about the same time as Blackmail. This pastel also appears to have started life with a different title, The Russian Girl, and was thus apparently also not originally intended to offer up a clue to the Royal/Conspiracy.
This theory can be further strengthened by the fact that the first time Sickert used the title Mrs Barrett was when he painted the two paintings with that title, (the woman in the large hat and the profile of this same woman), at Easter of 1906. He described this woman in a letter to a friend as being "a new model".29 If this woman was indeed named Mrs Barrett, as seems likely, then it is apparent that Sickert went back and re-titled two of his earlier works with this title. Why? This is something that I will try to address later in this article but I will say that it seems likely that Mrs Barrett did indeed exist, that she was not Mary Kelly and that Sickert first painted her in 1906. That Barrett is a misprint of Barnett now seems unlikely.
The painting titled Lazarus Breaks His Fast (c. 1927), is, I feel, the most revealing of the paintings said to offer clues to the Royal conspiracy. The painting shows an elderly man with a napkin tucked under his chin, sitting at a table eating what appear to be grapes with a spoon. The model was Sickert himself, who painted the picture from a photograph. Stephen Knight tells us, "As the only biblical reference to Lazarus eating (John XII) refers to meat, why did Sickert fill his plate with grapes? The painter said the picture was a veiled accusation of Gull, who had induced unconsciousness in the victims by feeding them poisoned grapes."30 In late 1926, Sickert had suffered some unknown debilitating illness - possibly a stroke - from which he had taken several months to recuperate. When he recovered, Sickert took what might be considered a drastic step for an artist by changing his name from Walter to Richard, his middle name.
Considering what he had just gone through and the fact that he himself was the model for the painting, it seems very clear that the subject of the painting is not Lazarus per se but Sickert himself who had just risen from his death-like sickbed. The portrait displays the return of his appetite and a return to semi-solid food - the grapes (if that’s what they are!). The portrait thus offers us no Biblical question mark.
Knight’s claim that Sir William Gull used poisoned grapes as a method of subduing the Whitechapel victims inside the coach driven by John Netley is key to the Sickert story. This claim shrivels to so many dried raisins when it is revealed that none of the Jack the Ripper victims had eaten grapes just before their deaths, a fact based on the post-mortem findings. Grapes were specifically mentioned as not being present during the Elizabeth Stride inquest while Dr Sedgwick Saunders, who had been looking for drugs or poisons in Catherine Eddowes’ stomach contents, found nothing. What can one say about this false clue? Just that it becomes another revealing piece of illuminating evidence of the total untrustworthiness of the entire Sickert fable.
Perhaps the most important painting that has been pointed to as containing clues to the Royal/ Conspiracy is one titled Ennui. Jean Overton Fuller states that when Walter Sickert supposedly told Florence Pash that he was painting clues to the Ripper murders into his pictures, sometime in 1921, that this painting contained the "supreme clue."31
The painting portrays two people in a room, the man sitting, a beer in front of him, smoking a cigar. His back is turned to a woman who stands behind him. The woman stares dully at a picture on the wall in front of her and the whole scene displays the crushing weight of their collective boredom. None of this is important however, for the ‘supreme clue’ lies not in this domestic predicament nor in the title but in a picture which hangs on the wall over the couple. Stephen Knight states simply, "The picture depicts Queen Victoria. What appears to be a bird fluttering near her head is in fact a gull, Sickert told his son."32 Overton Fuller states, "The supreme clue was a gull which he had painted on Queen Victoria’s shoulder."33
The gull fluttering around "Queen Victoria" is supposed to represent Sir William Gull and his allegiance to the crown for whom he committed the five murders. It is obvious why this is seen as the ‘supreme clue’ as it goes to the very heart of the Sickert tale. What has not been clearly explained by Knight and Overton Fuller is the fact that there were at least five versions of this painting done between the years 1913 to 1917-18, and also numerous sketches and studies. Some of these contain an unidentified object hovering just to the right of the woman’s head, some do not. If this was a clue, it was selectively portrayed.
Jean Overton Fuller makes the claim that the gull appears only in the version of Ennui that hangs in the Ashmolean museum in Oxford which was painted in 1917-18, but not in the much larger 1914 version which hangs in the Tate in London. This is an interesting statement, considering that both versions contain a whitish blob of paint situated in roughly the same spot over ‘Victoria’s’ left shoulder. The blob in the Ashmolean version does indeed look more bird-like than that in the Tate, but considering that many of the drawings have an object hovering in this same spot, it is obviously there for some purpose or depicts some ‘thing’. . . but is that ‘thing’ necessarily a gull in all versions of the painting? It doesn’t appear to be.
Whatever this ‘thing’ is, it flies or floats around the woman’s head in several of the versions, as I have stated, but herein lies the problem with this painting. The so called "supreme clue" comes across as a small blob of paint hidden in the background of the larger painting. Does only the Ashmolean version contain a gull while the others contain something else, such as a dove or pigeon or butterfly? Is it Queen Victoria at all?
As Patricia Cornwell has observed, Sickert never painted anything that he had not seen and the many versions of Ennui, both paintings and sketches contain the same picture on the back wall of the painting. This picture must have existed as we see it and Sickert used it as set dressing. That it must be a coloured print rather than a painting can be assumed from the simple circumstances of the room around it. If it is a mass-produced print, whom does it depict? Victoria? Certainly it does not depict the stern Queen-Empress Victoria, dressed in her black widow’s weeds. No, this print is of a younger woman, viewed from the chest up, her shoulders and arms bare as she leans on a table or over a railing of some kind. Behind her, framing her is a spray of feathers or fur or vegetation. The print seems very unlike Victoria, dressed as she is, and there is no crown, no sash, nor any other of the trappings of the Monarchy. There is more a feel of theatre than Royalty here, and I would doubt if anyone alive in 1917-18 would equate this print with the late Queen. Somewhere there must exist a print of some woman, perhaps a singer or actress or famous personality around whom a dove or butterfly or fairy flits. Having said that, Jean Overton Fuller is correct about one thing: the last version of this painting does seem to depict something that looks like a seagull perched on the unidentified woman’s shoulder. This is the only painting in the ‘Ennui’ series that can be pointed to as offering us a ‘Gull’ as a clue. It seems to me that if we assume that Walter Sickert did indeed tell friends and family a spurious tale about the Royal family and the Whitechapel murders, is this small insignificant bird his attempt to add verisimilitude to his tale? It is so inconsequential, so meaningless to the casual observer that it is almost guaranteed to draw no comment and yet can be pointed out to the gullible as a vital clue to a totally baseless tale.
As with all the paintings that are supposed to offer up clues to Sickert’s story, Ennui leaves much to be desired and at best perhaps offers us a glimpse of Walter Sickert’s sense of humour more than anything else. We cannot now know what Sickert was thinking when he painted these works, but unburdening his conscience of the knowledge of the murders of five women in Whitechapel in 1888 seems highly unlikely. If the tale itself has proven to be false, then clues supposedly scattered in a few paintings offer up no proof that it is based on truth.
THE CAMDEN TOWN MURDER SERIES
On 12 September 1907, a part time prostitute named Emily Elizabeth ‘Phyllis’ Dimmock was found murdered in her bed at 29 St Paul’s Road, Camden Town. Known in the press as the “Camden Town Murder,” Sickert, who lived in Camden Town at the time, began to title several drawings, sketches and paintings using this name. Joseph Gorman Sickert has stated that these paintings represented the murder of Mary Kelly. Patricia Cornwell believes that Walter Sickert was the murderer of Phyllis Dimmock and that the Camden Town Murder series displays Sickert’s hatred of women.
The parallels between the deaths of Mary Kelly and Phyllis Dimmock are clear. Both were prostitutes, both were murdered in their beds, both had their throats cut and both murders took place in lower class areas of London. It is impossible to state with any accuracy that The Camden Town Murder series does or does not represent Mary Kelly in any way. On the other hand, Sickert’s and the public’s interest in the Dimmock murder and the trial of Robert Wood was intense: "In short, this was a cause célèbre. Each succeeding day of the murder trial unfolded to the public a story as enthralling as any novel, as dramatic as any play and as intriguing and mystifying as any detective story. In those days murder was a capital offence, and, denied radio and television, the interest of the public was rivetted by the daily struggle described in the press. Every facet was reported: the endeavours of the police, probing and dissecting the facts as they were uncovered; the prosecution seeking to establish damning charges; the great advocate of the day, Edward Marshall Hall KC, desperately fighting for the life of the accused; in the background the angel of death hovering over the gallows. The public was transfixed by the drama at the Central Criminal Court." 34
Or, as Milward Kennedy wrote: "London was stirred by this trial; anonymous letters showered upon judge and counsel, and a well-known evening paper earned a stern rebuke by calling the jury ‘the least distinguished part of the picture.’ Theatre-goers applauded his acquittal." 35
Looking at it like this, it is probable that the Camden Town Murder series is not about Mary Kelly per se, but she might have had some influence on the series, coming as it did on the heels of some paintings which may have been painted of her in 1905-1906. It is also clear why Sickert would be interested in the murder.
It has been commented on by various Sickert experts that he was fascinated by murder and criminal mysteries, and his tastes seemed to run to the sensational, headline grabbing type. The Camden Town murder was only one of his interests, along with such stories as the Tichborne Claimant.36 His obsession with the Tichborne case was such that he did a painting based on a photograph of the defendant, Arthur Orton, years later in 1930, and was reportedly writing a book on the subject. The arrest and trial of Dr Hawley Harvey Crippen also greatly interested him. 37 Helen Lessore recounted how Sickert had taken her in a taxi to view both Crippen’s home on Hilldrop Crescent, Finsbury Park, where he had killed his wife and buried her remains in the cellar, and, of course, the scenes of the Whitechapel murders. As a painting subject, Sickert had painted his room at 6 Mornington Crescent sometime after he had moved there in 1905 and had titled it Jack the Ripper’s Bedroom after the veterinary student who had once occupied it and whom the landlady suspected of being the killer. Marjorie Lilly tells us that during the painting of the Camden Town Murder series, Sickert used a red handkerchief which he knotted around his neck, and with cap pulled low over his eyes he would sit and meditate on the planning of his next painting. What Lilly does not tell us is that there was any connection between this handkerchief and the Ripper murders. She did tell Stephen Knight that Walter Sickert had "Ripper periods" where he had dressed up as the Ripper for several weeks on end but this had been after his stroke in 1926, not during the painting of the Camden Town series.
This red handkerchief was linked by Knight - and now Cornwell - with the Ripper murders based only on Joseph Lawende’s description of a man with a "reddish neckerchief" seen with Catherine Eddowes and the red handkerchief that George Hutchinson claimed he saw being given to Mary Kelly on the night of her death. From this we are supposed to leap to the conclusion that the red handkerchief owned by Walter Sickert in 1907 is one and the same and that Sickert was the Ripper. Such is the weighty ‘chain of evidence’ used to convict the man.
But what was going on in 1907-1909? Combined with his interest in murder, Wendy Baron believes that Sickert adopted the title The Camden Town Murder because of his flair for publicity. The title was used to "encompass several independent series of etchings, paintings and drawings undertaken in 1908-1909, each featuring a naked woman and a clothed man."38
Earlier, in Venice, Sickert had done a series of paintings of two women in a room, one clothed, the other naked and lying on a bed. The Camden Town Murder paintings continued this series, but with the clothed subject now a male. The emotional reaction of seeing two women in a bedroom, one clothed and the other naked, becomes an entirely different and disturbing matter when a clothed male figure is added. With the title The Camden Town Murder, he could paint a scene of psychological tension made up of male and female, clothed and naked subjects.
This is apparently what Sickert was attempting to do: to study the psychological implications of these bedroom scenes, the power of men over women and the sometimes ugly and brutal side to domestic life. Did Sickert glorify these scenes? Not at all; he was merely holding up a mirror to some of the life around him, life that other artists refused to depict, and it is quite possible that some of that life came from stories of Whitechapel in 1888 and the horrible death of Mary Kelly.
Sickert himself described the life of some of these women in a letter, saying that they were women with "Extraordinary lives. Men, who live on them, now and again hitting them with ‘ammers, putting poisonous powders on cakes, trying to cut their throats, drugging their whisky &c. "39
I have already discussed the painting titled The Camden Town Murder/What Shall We Do For the Rent and what effect Sickert could achieve from changing the title. Steven Knight claims that the painting represents Mary Kelly because she was in arrears with her rent, but the picture gives no clue that this is Kelly. The woman is not mutilated, her throat is not cut - in fact, there is no blood in any of the Camden Town Murder series. As I have mentioned, the woman’s hand is resting gently on the man’s knee so it isn’t even apparent that she is dead. Can this be claimed to actually be Mary Kelly? No, it can’t. Nor can it be said to represent Phyllis Dimmock. It seems to be nothing more than what it appears to be, a sad little domestic scene which Sickert titled The Camden Town Murder for the publicity, as Wendy Baron suggests.
The painting L’Affaire de Camden Town (1909), however, can be said to have started out representing Phyllis Dimmock . Sickert’s preparatory drawings tell us that they represent St Paul’s Road, where the murder had taken place. The painting shows a man, arms folded, standing over a naked woman lying on a bed. The woman is recoiling in terror, her arm shielding her face, or, merely turning over to look at the man, Richard Shone calls it "an ambiguous gesture".40 The painting itself, however, does not record the details of Dimmock’s death correctly but Wendy Baron says that "While Sickert may not have tried to recreate exact circumstances, in this painting he evidently intended to represent a cruel and brutal confrontation."41
In Summer Afternoon/What Shall we Do For the Rent, (1908), another double titled painting from this series, Sickert has painted another naked woman lying in bed while a young man, cap still on his head, sits next to her, looking down on her. Jean Overton Fuller has problems with this painting:
"There is something about her anatomy that puzzles me. Where is her navel? Where one would expect to find it, there is nothing. Its absence is cunningly blotted out by the way the light falls on the torso. What looks like a navel is much too far down, only just above the pubis. Indeed one sees the v-shape of the groin just beneath it. In the police photographs of Catherine Eddowes, one can see that that was the position of the hole made by the knife as it first went in, before being dragged upwards. But Emily Dimmock was not mutilated in that part."42
I will not dispute the possibility that this painting could represent the body of Catherine Eddowes, for reasons that will become apparent later, but in all honesty I will have to say that I can’t see what Baron is talking about. I cannot make out the "v-shape of the groin" but the navel seems to appear where it should on the body in relation to the breasts of the woman in this muddy and indistinct painting. Although atmospheric, this painting does not appear to be Sickert’s version of either the murder of Catherine Eddowes or anybody else.
Like the paintings in the section on the conspiracy theory, Sickert’s paintings in the Camden Town series do not leave a clear indication that they represent what has been claimed of them. Patricia Cornwell will try to claim that they are malevolent, sinister depictions of a man’s hatred and contempt for women, but that is a rather naive opinion of the work of Walter Sickert. If no artist ever tried to prick our sensibilities and show us things we would rather ignore, then what is the value of art to society?
Let me leave this section with this observation. When asked why, if Walter Sickert was Jack the Ripper, did he wait almost twenty years to start painting his victims, Patricia Cornwell answered that it was because he was "a smart man" who didn’t want to bring attention to himself. So what happened to change this intelligence some twenty years later? Considering that she also believes that he murdered Phyllis Dimmock, does it mean that he was no longer smart enough to realize that he would bring attention to himself if he started to paint a large series of celebrated paintings titled The Camden Town Murder? Or is there some other reason why he appears to have started painting pictures featuring victims of Jack the Ripper almost twenty years after the Autumn of Terror?
RIPPER VICTIMS Starting in 1905, Walter Sickert started to paint and sketch various works that seemed to depict the victims of the Whitechapel murderer. Joseph Gorman Sickert, Stephen Knight, Jean Overton Fuller and now Patricia Cornwell have singled out works that they claim represent victims. Are they correct in their claims? If so, what exactly does this mean? Was Walter Sickert Jack the Ripper?
In one sense I believe that they are correct, that some paintings done by Walter Sickert do indeed depict the victims of Jack the Ripper. All four of those above mentioned have tried in varying degrees to make this seemingly ludicrous point, but, in fairness, who has not wondered at the disturbing image painted by Sickert in his La Hollandaise (c.1906)? A large, naked woman lounges on a bed in a cheap and dingy room, her face a disturbing and indistinct blur. Steven Knight called it "an abomination" and rightly observes, "the difficulty presented in trying to discern her features is similar to that experienced in studying the Scotland Yard photograph of Kelly’s mutilated face."43 Even art experts have trouble not describing the face in La Hollandaise as being mutilated. David Peters Corbett describes Sickert’s technique as "...wiping off the face of the model and substituting a leonine or mutilated surface."44
Jean Overton Fuller adds her equally interesting observations on this same painting: "...what worries is the lower leg, where, near the ankle, a shading-line goes right through it, so that not only is the foot separated from the leg but the line of the shin projects over the instep, as if it were a fold. One could think of the folds in rhinoceros-hide but what I cannot help being reminded of is the police photograph of Mary Kelly’s remains, where one sees the great fold of the skin, flayed from the lower leg and rolled back. The white fold just above the knee, in the painting, is just at the point from which the folding back begins on the flayed limb."45 When the painting is compared to the police photograph, although the painted slash of white is on the wrong leg, it does appear at the exact same point, just inches below the knee, where the edge of Mary Kelly’s flayed flesh leaves a black line. There is also a slash of white paint across the model’s throat in an area under the chin where you would not normally see a highlight. In fact, the area surrounding this slash is dark. This is not an exercise in tonality where areas of the face have been defined by the light and shadow that cover it. There is no face at all.
The title, Shone suggests, comes from Balzac’s Gobseck in which one of the characters - interestingly, a prostitute - was called ‘la belle Hollandaise’46 I suggest that in this case Knight and Overton Fuller are correct: La Hollandaise does indeed represent Sickert’s interpretation of the mutilated body of Mary Kelly.
Another painting of a similar scene titled Nuit d’Eté (c.1906)47 also shows a large naked woman lounging on a bed; in fact, the same bed in what might be an earlier version of La Hollandaise . Overton Fuller describes this painting thus: "...her cheek and nose have been most cruelly slashed. And what is that line or slit running from above the pubis to the right of the throat?...The opening is in her flesh....This looks like the police photograph of Catherine Eddowes, the cheek and nose slashed from the same direction, and the long slit from above the pubis to the right of the throat. Yet that photograph was not publicly available until reproduced in Daniel Farson’s book, Jack the Ripper, in 1972."48
It is possible that this is what is depicted in the painting but I cannot, in all honesty, claim that this is a painting of Catherine Eddowes. The nose and side of the face do indeed seem slashed, as in the police photographs, but this could also be Sickert’s usual style coupled with the angle from which we see the model. Is it shadow? Is it blood? I cannot say and I do not see the long slit that Overton Fuller claims exists. This will have to be left with a question mark.
Patricia Cornwell has also offered us a couple of paintings that seem to her to need special consideration. The first of these is a painting titled Putana a Casa (c. 1903-1904) 49. As can be seen, this painting was done before the 1905 starting point from which all other victims’ paintings were done. This alone does not disqualify it as a possible painting of a Ripper victim, but it does mean that it should be looked at more cautiously.
The painting, done in Venice, is of a woman seated in a chair, her shawl pulled around her and deep shadow covering most of the right side of her face: the same side of the face that is shown in the close up police photograph of Catherine Eddowes’ head. Primetime Thursday in fact used this photograph, apparently pointed out and provided by Cornwell, to illustrate the similarities between the painting and photo. I admit that there are some similarities - the hair coming up to a point at the back of the head and the indistinctness around the nose, for example - but I am not convinced that this does represent Eddowes.
The model for the painting was Sickert’s favourite Venetian model, a prostitute he called La Giuseppina. Sickert did several paintings and sketches of her and the hair on all these works is similar: a large bun of hair piled on top of the head. Although the tip of the nose is indistinct, it is still recognizably the long, sharp pointed nose of La Giuseppina and, significantly, there is also no mutilation to the lips, something that stands out in the police photo and in other paintings. A closer study of the painting shows no mutilation to the left side of the face, but it does show the direction that the light is hitting the model. With the light coming from the right, hitting the model on her left side, then the model’s right side would indeed be in shadow as painted. So this is apparently deep shadow and not blood we are seeing.
Cornwell believes that the next painting is of real importance. Le Journal (c.1906) is mentioned by both Knight and Overton Fuller. Knight says it "...appears to be a straightforward portrait of a woman lying down and reading a newspaper, which she holds in the air above her head. ‘That woman is dead’, Sickert confided in his son, and pointed out the detail most people miss – that the bottom of the newspaper is partly obscured by the woman’s hair. This means she is not reading it at all. It lies on the floor behind her. And without doubt, she is dead.”50.
Overton Fuller has her own perspective on this painting. She claims, "In the painting Le Journal, the pose of the head resembles that of Catherine Eddowes in the police photograph, (the photograph showing Eddowes in her mortuary coffin), except that the line where her throat was cut has been replaced by a rope of pearls."51 Patricia Cornwell says the same thing.
In her interview on Primetime Thursday Cornwell stated, " ...and then you look at Catherine Eddowes. Her head is thrown back with this gaping gash in it and even the facial features and the hair are very similar to this painting. This woman, her head is thrown back and she’s got this pearl necklace, choker, around her neck that looks like the reverse colour of schiiiik [here she made a finger across her throat gesture - WV], a slit. And you can look at pictures of these woman that appear to have their faces mutilated with paint and then you look at a picture of what he did to Catherine Eddowes’ face."52
It would seem that this painting is a good candidate to be another of Sickert’s Ripper paintings, especially as it is one of the series that includes the works titled Mrs Barrett, but on closer inspection, I can find none of Knight’s evidence to prove his claims. Knight is correct that a very tiny bit of hair does seem to cover the newspaper, an impossibility if the paper is being held up and in front of the model ’s face, but, upon examination, it appears more likely that this is the result of the hair being painted quickly and with little definition.
Knight claims that the woman is lying on the floor, something that he had to say in order for his claim that the newspaper lies behind the woman to make any sense, but, again, he is wrong. The woman is seated next to a green striped sofa; her left arm - which holds the paper - is resting on the large padded arm of the sofa and she is leaning back, her head resting on the back of the sofa. The dimensions and angle of the arm holding the paper are such that it is impossible for the woman to be lying on the floor unless she possessed a withered arm. The painting seems to be exactly what it appears to be, a woman sitting reading a paper that she holds out in front of her.
Both Overton Fuller and Cornwell have mentioned that the pose is similar to that of the picture of Catherine Eddowes lying in her mortuary coffin. It is similar, perhaps, but not the same. The axis of the photo goes from left to right while the painting goes from right to left. Cornwell has stated that the hair and facial features are also similar to the photograph, but it is hard to see what she is talking about, let alone to agree. Eddowes’s hair is matted, her mouth opened and slack, her face distorted by mutilation. The model in Le Journal has suffered no mutilations, her mouth is closed and her hair is coiffed.
Cornwell’s reasons for claiming that this seemingly innocent painting is of Catherine Eddowes are also interesting. In the Primetime Thursday interview, she said that the painting reminded her of something she had read. She tells us that one of the Ripper letters sent to the police contained this sentence, "How do you like the pretty necklace I gave her."53 She believes that this painting illustrates this letter and that it was sent by Walter Sickert, demonstrating more sterling research and rock-solid evidence obtained by Ms Cornwell.
The letter she is discussing is in fact the controversial 17 September, “Dear Boss” letter which was "discovered" by Peter McClelland in 1988. Cornwell seems oblivious to the fact that this letter - which is neither stamped with the Public Record Office’s stamp nor referenced, annotated, or date stamped by police officials of the day and has never been described or commented on in the one hundred years before it was uncovered - is considered a hoax by most experts. It is so untrustworthy a piece of "evidence" that Stewart Evans and Keith Skinner do not even bother including it in their recent exhaustive work, Jack the Ripper: Letters From Hell.
There is at least one other painting that Patricia Cornwell says has some significance in proving that Walter Sickert was Jack the Ripper but I am unable to name the precise work. It appears to be one painted in the period 1920 to 1922 titled The Prevaricator. Another candidate is La Parisienne, done in 1924, as both show a bedroom with a bed with a wooden footboard. Cornwell rightly claims that Sickert painted only bedrooms with iron beds in them. Sickert was famous for this feature in his work, but in these two paintings he has replaced the iron bed with a wooden one much like Mary Kelly’s bed in her small room in Miller’s Court. Cornwell goes further and states that these are depictions of Mary Kelly’s room. How could he know what Kelly’s room looked like if he was not the Ripper, she asks? How indeed.
We now come to the final two paintings in this section, ones that I have already discussed, Blackmail: Mrs. Barrett and Mrs. Barrett. Knight claims that these are paintings of Mary Kelly, but again he is wrong. These two paintings are instead of Catherine Eddowes.
Remember what Knight said about Blackmail: Mrs. Barrett: "the end of her nose appears to be missing and the lack of definition in the lower part of the face renders the mouth non-existent. To a far greater extent, this is what Jack the Ripper did to Marie Kelly."54 Perhaps, but to the extent depicted in the sketch it is exactly what he did to Eddowes.
Overton Fuller agrees: "...there is something peculiar about the lower part of her face. That the mouth is not rendered, except for a few scratchy lines, I would not take as conclusively showing mutilation, in an artist who did often draw very sketchily...It is rather the shape of the end of the nose and its distance from the mouth that seems sinister to me.... Now that is not natural. It makes an extraordinarily long expanse of upper lip beneath the holes – of which surely one would not see so much, the head being tilted so as to show so much of the crown and so little of the chin – unless the real end to the nose, which would have obscured the nostrils, had been cut off, so that what one is seeing is not nostrils – in a short pig-snouted face – but the holes left by dismemberment, higher up. As the other pictures of her show, she had a perfectly good nose, even a strong one. In a version in the Tate where the head is at almost the same tilt, the tip obscures the nostrils, as it would."55
She is right, and a quick comparison between the sketch and the police photographs of Eddowes’ mutilated face shows an incredible similarity - one that cannot be explained by chance. The nose is gone and the area around the lips and right cheek are shaded and indistinct at the same places which have been mutilated on Eddowes’ face.
The painting Mrs Barrett is equally interesting. The model looks out at us from beneath her large hat with a mysterious Mona Lisa-like smile but there is something wrong with her lips; Sickert’s deliberate use of shading has made them look puffy and swollen and the face seems to be covered in dirt. This peculiar brown shading, if that is what it is supposed to be, covers the area of her nose, cheeks and lips, the exact areas of mutilation to Catherine Eddowes face. Does it represent blood? What is the meaning of the dark brown mark, something like an inverted “V,” on her left cheek, exactly where the inverted “V” was cut into Eddowes’ flesh?
Wendy Baron believes that all the paintings in the larger series that include works titled Mrs Barrett are of Mrs Barrett but this larger series seems to portray several different women. The hairstyle in all of them, however, is the same and pearls are worn in almost all of the works, so it appears that Sickert was using a kind of template into which he could insert different models at different times. Who the models are and who they might represent now become two separate questions.
Why did Sickert go back and rename some of his earlier works after "his cleaning lady", Mrs Barrett, but not others in this series? This I cannot answer, but there is an obvious connection between two of the works and Catherine Eddowes and it seems that Sickert was strengthening this connection by employing a unifying title. Do the two other works which share this title also represent her? Again, I cannot say, but it is obvious that although works titled Mrs Barrett owe some connection to a larger group of work, Sickert had decided for some reason to set them apart from that series.
At the end of this look into the art of Walter Sickert it appears to me that he did indeed paint some paintings of the victims of Jack the Ripper, but when compared to the artist’s overall large volume of work, the numbers are negligible. This was not the work of a man painting "trophy paintings" as Patricia Cornwell has suggested, nor is it the work of a man haunted by his role in any murder conspiracy. Rather, it is the work of a man interested in crime and letting his work reflect that interest.
It may seem that I have offered little in the way of evidence for some of the things that I have said, and most of you are probably wondering about the lack of explanation for my assertions. However, certain facts have been sprinkled throughout this article, as with the books by Knight and Overton Fuller, which, when taken as part of the whole have been lost or buried. Proof may seem to be lacking but allow me now to selectively place some of these facts in front of you like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle spilled out over a table top. Most of the pieces have been there all along and have been pored over, handled, sized and in some cases made to fit together by force by others before me. I feel, however, that not all of the pieces to this particular puzzle have been placed on the table, and therefore the picture that they have made is incomplete. The blank spaces have been disregarded and the result has been a distorted view of Walter Sickert’s art and the Whitechapel murders. Allow me now to attempt to sort out this puzzle while adding what I believe are a couple of the missing pieces that have fallen from sight.
- Walter Sickert was thought to be Jack the Ripper because of his paintings.
Donald McCormick made this claim in 1970, but unfortunately could not remember what his source was. Interestingly, McCormick makes absolutely no mention of Sickert’s Royal/Conspiracy story, so the information seems not to have come from Joseph Gorman Sickert. According to Jean Overton Fuller, Florence Pash claimed that Walter Sickert had "seen the bodies" and had painted them. Patricia Cornwell has stated that Sickert’s paintings have led her to believe in his guilt.
- Walter Sickert was very interested in murder and mystery.
We know this to be true and it has been commented on by people who knew him. He seemed to be especially interested in popular sensational headline grabbing stories such as the Tichborne Claimant, the Camden Town Murder, the Crippen case and, of course, the Whitechapel Murders.
- Walter Sickert used murder and mystery as a source of inspiration for his art.
The title of the Camden Town Murder series is proof alone of this statement. In 1930 Sickert had also painted a portrait of Arthur Orton, the Tichborne Claimant. Though Sickert had only been a boy when the Tichborne case grabbed the headlines, the case interested him for the rest of his life. Sickert painted a picture titled Jack the Ripper’s Bedroom, so it has already been established that he used his interest in the Whitechapel Murders as grist for his artistic mill.
- Walter Sickert was fluent in the French language.
From his youth spent holidaying in Dieppe to his later life in that same city, Sickert had always considered France to be his second home and perhaps his first love.
- Walter Sickert moved to France in 1898, returning to England in 1905.
Sickert moved to Dieppe in the Autumn of 1898, only returning to England for brief visits until February of 1905, when he moved back to London. Almost immediately, Sickert returned to France, having a gallery show of his works at the Salon d’automne in the French capital.
- Sickert started to paint pictures of Jack the Ripper victims circa 1905-1906.
La Hollandaise, Mrs. Barrett, Le Journal, Blackmail: Mrs Barrett and Nuit d’Eté were all done just after he moved back to London from France. This period of work was followed immediately by his Camden Town Murder series, so that the years 1905 to 1908 contain almost all of the paintings that might possibly have some real connection to the Whitechapel Murders.
- Joseph Vacher was arrested 4 August 1897.
Joseph Vacher, known as the “French Ripper,” was arrested near Tournon, France, for an attack on a woman and was charged with offending against public decency and sentenced to three months in prison. Vacher soon confessed to the murder, mutilation and rape of eleven people - seven women and four young boys - and was subsequently turned over to a group of French forensic experts who were to determine whether he was sane enough to stand trial for the murders. Headed by Professor Alexandre Lacassagne of the University of Lyon, the group found Vacher to be sane and he was tried in October 1898 in what was a sensational trial. Vacher was found guilty and was sent to the guillotine on 31 December 1898.
- In 1899 the book Vacher l’éventreur et les crimes sadiques was published in France.
Professor Lacassagne printed his findings on Vacher in a book published only in France. In an attempt to try and understand the mind of the French killer, Lacassagne studied other ‘sadistic crimes’ and included them in chapter XI. of his book . Pages 255 to 265 covers the Ripper murders under the heading, Les victimes de Jack the Ripper; however, the written content of this small chapter is of little importance as it is a translation and reprint from Arthur MacDonald’s earlier work.56 What makes Professor Lacassagne’s book important is that it was the very first book available to the public to publish the photographs of two of Jack the Ripper’s victims. The well known police photograph of Mary Kelly lying on her bed in Miller’s Court is reproduced on page 257, while on page 261 there is one of the full-length photographs of Catherine Eddowes pegged up to the mortuary wall by her hair.
- Walter Sickert only painted subjects that he had seen . . . .or had seen photographs of.
The puzzle picture is now much clearer. Walter Sickert, a man greatly interested in Jack the Ripper and the Whitechapel murders, moves to France in 1898. In 1899 a book is published in France which details a recent and sensational sexual serial murder case. This book allows the public to see police photos of Whitechapel victims for the very first time. Sickert obtains a copy of this book - perhaps late in his stay in France, maybe only when he returns to Paris after moving back to London in 1905. Alternately, Sickert may have obtained the book anytime during his stay in France, but upon his return to London he is told by his landlady that he now is living in the very same rooms once occupies by Jack the Ripper. Inflamed or repulsed or fascinated, Sickert begins to paint and sketch images based on the photographs, works such as La Hollandaise and Blackmail: Mrs. Barrett. Sickert tells Florence Pash that he has seen the bodies, as indeed he has if I am correct, and is able to recount the various mutilations which are detailed in Lacassagne’s book. Sickert points to some of his work as proof. Years later, incorrect conclusions are drawn about Walter Sickert and the art of murder.
Jean Overton Fuller wondered how the nude woman in Nuit d’Eté, painted in 1906, could appear to display the mutilations done to Catherine Eddowes when "that photograph was not publicly available until reproduced in Daniel Farson’s book, Jack the Ripper, in 1972."57 She was wrong.
Patricia Cornwell was emphatic when asked if Walter Sickert could have had the photographs. She stated most definitely, "No! No, he would not have had, he could not have known what these woman looked like dead. Could not, unless he were there."58 Or unless he had taken a little stroll over to his local marchand de livre and bought a copy of Lacassagne’s book!
This theory answers some of the questions about Sickert and the Whitechapel Murders put forward by Patricia Cornwell quite neatly. Ms Cornwell has made the observation that "Some of his paintings, if you juxtapose them with some of the morgue photos, are extraordinarily chilling."59 Yes, I have to agree that when some of Walter Sickert’s paintings are compared to the morgue photos they show a marked similarity to the photos. The logical explanation is that this is because they are based on the morgue photos, not on the bodies lying in situ.
According to abcnews.com, Cornwell also pointed out that "one of the paintings closely resembles the room where Mary Kelly...was killed in 1888. Cornwell noted that the painting features a wooden bedstead, just as in the Kelly murder. Sickert painted iron bedsteads in his other paintings."60 I would ask Ms Cornwell how it is that she knows what Mary Kelly’s room looked like, and would offer the opinion that both she and Walter Sickert knew what the room looked like because they had been looking at the same photograph.
Let me leave you with one more observation. Joseph Gorman Sickert, Stephen Knight, Jean Overton Fuller and Patricia Cornwell have all looked at or commented on the art of Walter Sickert, and they have seemed to have come to a consensus as to which paintings represent the victims of the Whitechapel murderer. It is interesting to note that if Walter Sickert was Jack the Ripper and he later painted and sketched his victims, especially if Ms Cornwell is correct and he did so for trophies, then where is Polly Nichols? Where are Annie Chapman and Elizabeth Stride? No painting has been mentioned by anyone that is supposed to represent these women.
The paintings that have been mentioned as being of Ripper victims seem to only represent Mary Kelly and Catherine Eddowes. Lacassagne’s book contains the photographs of only two of the Ripper’s victims - Mary Kelly and Catherine Eddowes.
1) Donald McCormick, The Identity of Jack the Ripper, (Arrow Books Ltd. 1970.) Note: this quote does not appear in either the Jarrolds 1959 first edition nor the Great Pan Books 1962 first paperback edition.
2) Primetime Thursday, ABC television network, (aired 6 December 2001.)
3) Oswald Adalbert Sickert had been born in Altona in Schleswig-Holstein, a Danish protectorate with a large German speaking population. Wendy Baron has stated that, contrary to what Joseph Gorman Sickert and Stephen Knight have claimed, any personal acquaintance with the Royal Danish Family is imaginary.
4) David Peters Corbett, Walter Sickert, (Princeton University Press, 2001.)
6) Richard Shone, Walter Sickert, (Phaidon Press Limited, 1988.)
7) Wendy Baron and Richard Shone, editors, Sickert Paintings, (Yale University Press, 1992.)
8) Fitzroy Street becomes Charlotte Street once it crosses Howland Street and thus the two are actually the same street with different names. This street runs parallel to, and only a block east of Cleveland Street where Sickert had set his tale of Annie Crook and Prince Albert Victor so Sickert did have a studio(s) in the area but not before 1905.
10) Sickert’s return to London in early to mid 1905 occurred over two years before the murder of Phyllis Dimmock on Thursday, 12 September 1907 not the "less than a year after he returned to London" as Patricia Cornwell has claimed in her abcnews.com internet interview when trying to pin the murder on Sickert.
11) Baron and Shone.
12) Wendy Baron (Baron and Shone) has pointed out that there is no evidence to prove that Joseph Gorman Sickert was the son of Walter. She points out that, " By the time that Joseph was eight months old Sickert had married...Thérèse Lessore, who looked after him very closely. By the time Joseph was nine years old, Sickert no longer lived or had a studio in London: in failing health, always accompanied by his devoted wife and assistants, he rarely even traveled up to town. By the time Joseph was sixteen, Sickert was dead."
13) Baron and Shone (author’s translation from the French.)
14) 18 June 1978.
15) Friday, 17 August, 1973.
16) Martin Howells and Keith Skinner, The Ripper Legacy (Sidgwick & Jackson Ltd. 1987.)
18) Stephen Knight, Jack the Ripper the Final Solution (David McKay Company Ltd. 1976)
19) Howells and Skinner.
21) Jean Overton Fuller, Sickert and the Ripper Crimes (Mandrake of Oxford Ltd. 1990.)
25) Baron and Shone.
27)”Woman of the Venetian people,” according to Baron.
28) Baron and Shone.
31) Overton Fuller.
33) Overton Fuller.
34) Sir David Napley, The Camden Town Murder (George Weidenfeld & Nicolson Limited, 1987.)
35) Milward Kennedy, “The Camden Town Murder,” from Great Unsolved Crimes (Hutchinson & Co. Ltd, 1935)
36) The Tichborne Claimant case was, in its day, the longest running trial in British history. The case involved Arthur Orton, a Wapping butcher living in Wagga Wagga, Australia under the assumed name of Thomas Castro, who attempted to convince the world that he was, in fact, Roger Tichborne, the long-lost heir to that family’s estates and a baronetcy in Hampshire. The case polarized Great Britain as the nation took sides either believing or disbelieving him.
37) The Crippen murder case of 1910 was the same type of sensational headline-grabbing story that Sickert seemed to love. It made the name of Chief Inspector Walter Dew a household name and his memoirs, I Caught Crippen, a best seller.
38) Baron and Shone.
41) Baron and Shone.
42) Overton Fuller.
45) Overton Fuller.
46) Baron and Shone.
47) "Summer night".
48) Overton Fuller.
49) "whore at home". Alternately titled Putana Veneziana, "Venetian whore".
51) Overton Fuller.
52) Primetime Thursday.
55) Overton Fuller
56) Lacassagne used the second French edition of MacDonald’s work, Le Criminel-type dans quelques formes graves de la criminalité. Translation by d’Henry Goutagne, Storck, Lyon, 1894. MacDonald claims eleven victims for the Ripper: the canonical five plus "Fairy Fay" (although he gives a date of 1 December 1887), Martha Tabram, Alice McKenzie and the three torso murders.
57) Overton Fuller.
58) Primetime Thursday.
59) “Stalking Jack the Ripper A Crime Novelist Is Obsessed With a 113 -Year-Old Case,” abcnews.com, 6 December 2001.
Alan, A. J. and others, Great Unsolved Crimes, Hutchinson & Co. Ltd. 1935.
Aronson, Theo, Prince Eddy and the Homosexual Underworld, Barnes and Nobel Books, 1994
Baron, Wendy, and Richard Shone, Sickert Paintings, Yale University Press, 1992.
Begg, Paul, Martin Fido and Keith Skinner, The Jack the Ripper A-Z (third paperback edition), Headline, 1996.
Corbett, David Peters, Walter Sickert, Princeton University Press, 2001.
Eddleston, John J., Jack the Ripper: An Encyclopedia, ABC-CLIO, 2001.
Evans, Stewart P., and Keith Skinner, Jack the Ripper: Letters From Hell, Sutton, 2001.
Fairclough, Melvyn, The Ripper and the Royals, Duckworth, 1992.
Farson, Daniel, Jack the Ripper, Michael Joseph Ltd, 1972.
Gaute, J. H. H., and Robin Odell, The Murderers’ Who’s Who, Optimum, 1979.
Grimal, Pierre, editor, Larousse World Mythology, Payl Hamlyn, 1969.
Harris, Melvin, Jack the Ripper the Bloody Truth, Columbus Books, 1987, The Ripper File, W. H. Allen, 1989.
Howells, Martin, and Keith Skinner, The Ripper Legacy, Sidgwick & Jackson, 1987. Jones, Elwyn, and John Lloyd, The Ripper File, Futura, 1975.
Knight, Stephen, Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution, David McKay,1976.
Lacassagne, Alexandre, Vacher l’éventreur et les crimes sadiques, A. Storck, 1899.
Marjoribanks, Edward, Famous Trials of Marshal Hall, Penguin, 1989.
McCormick, Donald, The Identity of Jack the Ripper, Jarrolds,1959, The Identity of Jack the Ripper, Pan, 1962, The Identity of Jack the Ripper, Arrow, 1970.
Napley, Sir David, The Camden Town Murder, George Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1987.
Nash, Jay Robert, Open Files, McGraw-Hill, 1983.
Overton Fuller, Jean, Sickert and the Ripper Crimes, Mandrake, 1990.
O’Donnell, Kevin, The Jack the Ripper Whitechapel Murders, Ten Bells, 1997.
Rumbelow, Donald, Jack the Ripper: The Complete Casebook, Contemporary Books, 1988.
Shone, Richard, Walter Sickert, Phaidon Press, 1988.
Wilson, Colin, and Patricia Pitman, Encyclopaedia of Murder, Pan, 1984.
NEWSPAPERS AND MAGAZINES
The Guardian, Saturday, 8 December, 2001, “Does this painting by Walter Sickert reveal the identity of Jack the Ripper?,” Fiachra Gibbons.
The Guardian, Saturday 8 December, 2001, “A novelist at the scene of the crime,” Mark Lawson.
Time Magazine, 25 January, 1993, “Music Halls, Murder and Tabloid Pix,” Robert Hughes.
BBC Television, Jack the Ripper, final episode, first aired Friday, 17 August, 1973.
ABC television network, Primetime Thursday, first aired 6 December 2001.
Casebook: Jack the Ripper: http://www.casebook.org/
Du sang à la une, Vacher l’éventreur de bergers: http://www.bm-lyon.fr/expo/sang/crime5.htm
Copyright 2002, Ripper Notes