Some Believe Walter Sickert's Macabre Paintings Reveal His Secret Alter-Ego: Jack The Ripper
The Whitechapel Killer. Leather Apron. Jack The Ripper. These are the names attributed to one of the most infamous killers in the history of Europe and the world. Jack the Ripper's brutal murders transfixed England with their savagery, precision, and brazenness. The killer struck at random and without warning, all while taunting authorities with his brutal violence, sexual obsession, and unrelenting fury.
To this day, no one has been has ever been named as having definitively been Jack the Ripper; the killings ended as suddenly as they began. Theories abound however, and several center on one of Victorian England’s most influential painters, Edward Sickert. Sickert’s work shocked viewers, so much so that implications revolving around the deadly Jack the Ripper and Walter Sickert refuse to go away. Read on to learn about the creepy paintings of Walter Sickert and why some believe his work and life indicate he may have been the most infamous murderer in his history.
Walter Sickert Is One Of Over 100 People Suspected To Be Jack The RipperPhoto: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
The unidentified serial killer commonly known as Jack the Ripper killed at least five women in the English city of Whitechapel between August 31 and November 9 of 1888. While the tally could be much higher as there were similar murders at the time, their are five deaths, called the "Canonical Five," considered the work of Jack the Ripper. They are linked together definitively through their similarities - namely mutilation and removal of their organs.
The city was terrorized by the murders and over 100 suspects were investigated at the time and over the years. Jack the Ripper does have one very specific quality, however. The canonical five prove the murderer had extensive knowledge of surgical techniques and human anatomy. The murderer's obvious expertise indicated they were likely educated and of a higher class than the sort of people known to live in Whitechapel. This criteria narrows the list of possible suspects to the more affluent people of the surrounding area at the time. Walter Sickert was one such person.
A Genital Abnormality May Have Fueled Anger Toward WomenPhoto: Martin Beek / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0
Mystery author Patricia Cornwell has spent millions of dollars investigating Walter Sickert as Jack the Ripper. She's written two books and in one of them, Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper - Case Closed, she posits that Sickert, who had no children and three failed marriages, had an abnormality on his penis that made him self-conscious. Self-conscious and impotent enough to lash out at women in the form of murder.
She suggests he had a fistula and it's known that he had had surgeries to correct the medical problem. It is a common serial killer trait for a murderer to be impotent or deformed in some way. However, there is plenty of other evidence to suggest Sickert's fistula was not on his penis and there are some claims that he had illigitimate children.
Walter Sickert Rented A Room Once Occupied By The MurdererPhoto: Walter Sickert [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons / Wikimedia Commons
It was no secret Walter Sickert was fixated on the Jack the Ripper case. Suspicion as to who the killer might be was rampant and everyone had a theory. Everyone, including the landlady who rented Sickert a room she believed had been previously occupied by the serial killer himself. While the landlady had no proof whatsoever of this claim, Sickert ate it up.
While renting the room, he created a painting of the space and called it Jack the Ripper’s Bedroom. The piece is dominated by a shadowy figure that could be looming over a bed or perhaps looking through the blinds in search of his next victim. This picture makes up a large part of the theory surrounding Sickert as the murderer.
Sickert Often Depicted Sex Workers In His Art And Made No Secret Of His Interest In The Ongoing MurdersPhoto: George Charles Beresford / Wikimedia Commons
Sickert's artwork became considerably stranger when he returned to England. He eschewed his contemporary nature studies and started incorporating what were considered at the time to be outrageous themes of sexuality.
While the murders gripped the public's attention and in later years, Sickert was overt about his obsession with the killer. His works during the 1880s and 1890s reflected his thoughts. They were explicit and sensational, often featuring unabashed nudity. The subjects of Sickert’s work were often performers and sex workers. It was whispered that Sickert might be having sex with his art models. In Victorian England, this was the height of perversion and it marked him as a deviant despite his accomplishments as an artist and critic.
Sickert's Camden Town Murder Series Paintings May Be A ConfessionPhoto: Walter Sickert / Wikimedia Commons
On September 11, 1907 Emily Dimmock was brutally murdered. Her throat had been slit while she slept after having sexual intercourse. She had been moonlighting as a prostitute unbeknownst to her husband. The killer had taken the time to wash his bloody hands in the sink before leaving. He was never caught. The papers called the event The Camden Town Murder.
In 1908, Walter Sickert created a series of four pieces that all revolved around a central theme of reclining nude females. The pieces were characteristically dark in palette and moody in tone. Sickert had originally given his paintings separate names but when he eventually displayed them together, he changed the paintings' names to reflect the subject on everyone’s minds at the time – The Camden Town Murder. Patricia Cornwell, in particular, seized upon the series, viewing them as confession to this separate murder and proof of his murderous tendencies in general.
Walter Sickert Possessed A Rare Paper That Was Also Used In Letters To The Police From Jack The RipperPhoto: By Unknown (credited to Jack the Ripper) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons / Wikipedia
Scotland Yard received many letters from people claiming to be the murderer. Only a few of these letter are supposed to be truthfully from the actual killer. One of these more reliable letters was printed on paper bearing a distinctive watermark. Sickert was known to use the same stationery in his letter writing. He also often included small doodles in the margins and edges of his letters, as artists are wont to do.
Author Patricia Cornwell, in particular, has based much of her theory that Sickert is Jack the Ripper on a taunting letter sent to Scotland Yard in October of 1888. The letter, in addition to bearing doodles and symbols similar to one's done by Sickert, was also written on paper made by paper maker Guerney Ivory Laid. Only 24 sheets of this precise paper were ever made. Of the 24, three have been proven to be in Sickert's possession and two were used for letters to Scotland Yard claiming to be Jack the Ripper.