Walter Sickert’s Background
Walter Sickert (1860-1942) was born in Germany, but settled in England with his family at age 6. He became one of the most influential British artists of his era, transitioning from the Impressionist to the Modern period and challenging Victorian moral sensibilities.
Sickert founded the Camden Town Group in 1911, which supported the work of avant-garde artists. He also taught at Westminster School of Art, and even became painting-buddies with Winston Churchill later in life. He was married three separate times and spent considerable time in Venice and France for painting trips.
As an artist who pushed the boundaries of Victorian moral conventions, Sickert often focused on painting shadowy interiors and lower class and suburban Victorian scenes, including scenes that suggested violence.
Sickert’s Known Connection to the Ripper Case
Sickert’s interest in the darker side of Victorian life as well as Jack the Ripper’s persona played into many of his paintings. One painting in particular was specifically named for the shadowy and elusive Whitechapel murderer.
One of Sickert’s landladies confided that she believed a former tenant had been the Whitechapel murderer. The murderer was supposed to have stayed in the very room Sickert inhabited, and this mystery captured Sickert’s imagination. It inspired the painting “Jack the Ripper’s Bedroom”, a brooding portrait of a faceless man standing backlit inside a heavily shaded room.
Throughout his life, Sickert maintained interest in the murders and continued to paint the same type of Whitechapel and East End residents that comprised the Ripper’s victims. Sickert’s focus on the poor, prostitutes, and actresses (who were viewed as on par with prostitutes), resulted in criticism from the Victorian mainstream for being tawdry and vulgar.
The Case for Walter Sickert Being Jack the Ripper
Stephen Knight first planted the idea of Sickert’s complicity in the murders with 1976’s Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution. According to Knight, who was communicating with an informant named Joseph Gorman, Sickert had been part of a conspiracy involving Freemasons and the throne. Knight argues that Sickert did not wield the knife, but that he was an accomplice. He was, according to Gorman, one of the witnesses at the clandestine wedding of crown prince Albert Victor and working-class Annie Crook (along with the canonical five Ripper victims), and therefore was culpable in the ensuing conspiracy. This conspiracy involved well-heeled men in carriages picking up the victims and depositing their mutilated bodies along with cryptic Masonic symbols.
Crime author Patricia Cornwell is perhaps the most famous and adamant proponent of Sickert’s guilt, which she argues in her book Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper–Case Closed. Her main corroborating evidence is an mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) sequence found on some of the purported Ripper letters. Her investigation revealed that this mtDNA matched some of the strains found on the letters that Sickert sent during his lifetime. Cornwell claimed that the mtDNA matched only one percent of the population, and was therefore very likely to be Sickert’s.
Cornwell also claims that Sickert was impotent due to a fistula on his penis. She sustains that many modern serial killers have been impotent, leading to misplaced sexual desire and hatred of women. She also argued that many of his paintings exhibit women’s nude bodies in postures reminiscent of the Ripper killings.
Indeed, Sickert was famous for his un-romanticized female nudes, which departed from impressionistic nudes and unsettled viewers of the time. One famous example is his painting What Shall We Do for the Rent?, depicting a nude woman lying on a bed and a man sitting on the side of the bed with his head lowered and hands clasped. To play on the sensation surrounding the grisly murder of a local prostitute in 1907, he renamed the painting The Camden Town Murder. Despite these suggestive images, none of Sickert’s paintings directly display dead or mutilated women’s bodies.
The Case Against Walter Sickert Being Jack the Ripper
Most Ripper experts contend that the “Dear Boss” letter, referenced by Cornwell as being a match to Sickert, is inauthentic. In fact, police officials of the time announced that they believed the letters to be a hoax written by journalist, Tom Bullen, in order to cash in on Ripper hysteria. If the DNA on those letters did, in fact, belong to Sickert, he may have been guilty of participating in the Ripper hoaxes.
Multiple plot holes discredit Stephen Knight’s account of the Ripper conspiracy, not the least of which was ample forensic evidence that the murdered women were all killed on the spot rather than moved by carriages (one of Knight’s major arguments). Additionally, Gorman came forward after the book was published, and said to The Sunday Times that his story was “a hoax … a whopping fib”.
To answer Cornwell’s claims that Sickert was impotent, there has been no definitive evidence of Sickert’s impotence. In fact, there are rumors that Sickert had at least one illegitimate child with a mistress living in Dieppe, France. Additionally, according to the record, the doctors who treated Sickert’s fistula specialized in anal fistulas, implying the fistula was probably not in his penis.
One of the most compelling pieces of evidence that Sickert was not Jack the Ripper, however, was the fact that he was very likely not in London at all at the time of the murders. Reporters from The Sunday Times also brought forward that Sickert was with his mother and brothers in France during the late summer of 1888 during the time the murders were taking place in Whitechapel.
In summary, all that truly implicates Sickert in the murders is a fascination with Jack the Ripper himself as well as the darker side of Victorian life. If such interests make one a murder suspect, then Ms. Cornwell as well as the writers and readers of Whitechapel Jack have some explaining to do.Sources
Please have a peek or peruse at my blog upon the Historum Website.
Jack the Ripper : The Art of Conspiracy
Do you think Sickert may have left some trace of his victims in his paintings ?
Rebecca Lynn Brock says
My great great Aunt Bridget McDaniel,head of housekeeping for Queen Victoria during the Ripper Murders, spoke with Walter Sickert a week before the first murder. She was a devout Anglican and a trusted confidant of the staff. Queen Victoria called her in for a private appointment. Behind closed. doors, Victoria began to weep. She said, “Those Whiechapel Witches are writing threatening letters to me. They want me to keep paying them a stipend or they will reveal that Elizabeth Stride has given my nephew and ward syphyllis. There is no cure and he is going insane.” Aunt Bridget asked, how may I serve the Good Queen in this matter?” Victoria answered, “I want you to issue all of those involved a Christian Warning. If they scribble one more
letter, I am sending Walter in. Now please go back to the hallway where Walter Sickert will be waiting for you. You two may discuss the matter further.”A week later, in the evening, another servant summoned Aunt Bridget to a carriage. She was taken to Whitechapel Lane. It smelled so badly of hog’s blood, urine, and vomit that she had to carry a “puke bucket.” She recalled on her deathbed visiting Mary Kelly’s flat. Mary opened the door and was roaring drunk. She asked Aunt Bridget if she wanted wanted some gin. Aunt Bridget noticed a stack of child pornography cards lying on the table. She asked Mary what she was doing with the cards. She said, “I sell ’em to my fellas. Want to look?”Aunt Bridget said, “Mary, I’ve come from the Good Queen Victoria to give you a Christian Warning. I will pray for what’s left of your eternal soul.” Mary Kelly spit in her face and told her to leave. After Walter had killed Mary Kelly and spoke with Aunt Bridget about the grursome nature of her killing, Walter said, ” She showed me those abominable cards She laughed and I was overcome with rage so I just kept cutting.”
Do you think Patricia Cornwell is way off base about Sickert?
I reckon Patricia Cornwell makes a pretty good case BT then I recently heard they gt Kosminskis DNA on a victims shawl? Denham ov Darlo
She has a good theory but it falls short of identifying Jack the Ripper as Walter Sickert.
Sickerts Art disturbing &powerful, love it. Denham
Did you see my map of where the Unfortunates lay miss Emily?
toby kopittke says
Keep me up to date with any developments!
Check out my Masonic Symbol Map of where the Victims were FOUND and not necessarily KILLED?
You will find it upon the Historum Forum under the Blog entitled…
The Art of Conspiracy
Getting a bit bored of Maybrick and his foney bulloney come false n fickle Diary and missy P Cornwell at the mo!!!
Jackdaw 1888 🙂
John dean Heckley says
Its like who killed Kennedy it’s speciation year in and year out keep people like me interested , I know this mad man or two , I can’t rule out a accomplice was a skilled surgeon his knife was apparently a post Mortem knife . No random nutter would have such skills , I also think he was Jewish , hence the graffiti that was chalked on a dark passage , The Jewes are the men who will not be blamed for nothing , wiped off by Abberline and the police , Why ! It was done by the killer , did the police know his identity and kept the public in the dark , he killed more than five in my opinion .to me it’s a man or men , Jew or Jews , high profiled job as a hospital doctor , surgeon well know to the police , I think some of the victims were killed elsewhere, then dumped , this butcher would of been covered in blood who knew Him who was protecting him was he living alone , his victims were easy pray , drunk full of gin , alcoholics pitch black foggy streets , for me a well dressed man of substance , Jewish with a high profiled job in surgery know to the police , possibly called john , jack is another name used for John ! And he lived in the Whitechapel area , I will keep looking one day maybe we will find out the truth . John dean Heckley !
No skill was needed, the murders were absolute deranged butcheries. Only a basic knowledge of human anatomy was necessary to do what he did to the organs. All the murders took place at night, in coal polluted London which was dark as can be. A quick change of clothes could be easily done to hide blood stained clothes. Add that to the fact that the police barely even existed in 1888 and had zero experience or training in anything we’d call investigation, and any unskilled murdered could and did get away with it.
Randy Williams says
Sickert is still a better suspect than most. Can we prove he was in France. I think the top suspect are first Aaron kosminski by far. Then George Chapman druitt cutbush levy james Kelly William bury tumbelty, cross, I guess Barnett still maybe, james and Michael maybrick nigjt be better than sickert. James hardiman that’s about it not many suspect any better than sickert agyw than frances Thompson and deeming are about equal with sickert as a suspect. Sickert is better than Lewis carol or Robert mann or fransisco Thompson or even ostrog prolly or john pizer or gull even Hutchinson isnt better. He might be better than deimshutz now
John dean Heckley says
Been a collector for years !sickert was involved with others , Gull , and kosminski it was s conspiracy it was covered up by royalty and the police , the newspaper made the name Jack the Ripper to sell newspapers, a lot more than Five was killed ! Why ? This is the thing that’s baffled me for years , I know the film with Johnny Depp sounds on the button , bit I think the royals , police , masons , Jewish elite where behind this ! It’s big business the ripper saga even today ! John Dean Heckley