Sickert seems to have thrived on shocking and even disgusting people. I get the feeling that all his Christmases happened at once with both the Ripper murders and the Camden Town murder.
The Mrs. Barrett series is interesting to me (and really quite horrible) on several levels. Firstly, in almost all of them you can divide "Mrs. Barrett's" face in half and see two completely different faces (try it with a bit of card.. it's quite eerie how different they are) so there's a feeling of intense duplicity. One of the facial hemispheres looks oddly masculine, to me. Another looks pretty much like a pile of raw meat. Secondly, there's 'shades' of the ripper in top hat-shaped shadows and hatted men lurking in reflections.
Miss Earhart looks pretty much as if she just spent the last week submerged in a lake.
What's my point? Well, much has been said about Sickert's being like unto Degas and other contemporaries. But even among the ones who painted the gritty realities of the working class poor - none of them depicted faces made of meat or so consistently implied death and tried to evoke the more disgusting end of the horror scale as Sickert did. Let alone obsess like a complete loon over lurid murder cases.
The figure is often supposed to be 'Queen Victoria'. But if you look at it, its arms are not actually connected to its body at all. And what is taken for 'green fur' or 'bushes' looks to me a lot like water. The whole looks rather like a chopped up person being thrown into a river. Which tends to make an odd kind of sense in a painting like 'Ennui', where a murder might seem something like a relief.
It makes the startled-looking gull a bit more logical, too. Well, moreso than it being a symbol for a murderous, Masonic royal doctor.
I am not saying Sickert was the Torso killer. Or, you know, Jack the Ripper.
Just pointing out how pervasive gruesome, bloody death is through the body (pun intended) of his work. And, added to his obsession with the Ripper, and proximity to the murder in Camden, the utterly horrific imagery implicit in his work make me wonder what sort of man he was, exactly, and what drove him to seek beyond 'fashionably shocking' to true and visceral vulgarity.
Gosh I can blather. Question: do you think the 'Queen Vic" image -might- be a body being thrown into a river? Or does it still look like a woman wearing green fur to you?
Well, you have made some interesting comments but I would like to ask you - have you seen any of Sickert's paintings in real life or just online? Looking at a flat image on a computer monitor is very different from standing before the real thing where the light is controlled and the painting 'comes to life'.
Secondly, how much of Sickert's work have you studied? Have you just been directed towards the paintings that you quote above by people who believe he was the ripper or have you looked at a wider range of his work?
Thirdly, what do you think was Sickert's objective in painting some of these portraits? Was it to reproduce a photographic image of the person, or was it to explore the effect of light and shadow on a face and body, or was it to reveal some deeper themes running through these people's lives? What do you think the role of an artist was at this time? How did Sickert see his role as an artist?
Additionally, your interpretation of Sickert's work is just that - your subjective deconstruction - but not necessarily what Sickert intended.
Furthermore, why do you repeat the often expressed view that 'Sickert was obsessed with the ripper murders' when only a tiny portion of his work deals with these events? Couldn't you make the same case about many authors who contribute to this site and who have written widely about the murders? Couldn't you make the same case against film makers and directors who have made numerous films about the murders - and even the audiences who read the books and watch the films?
Finally - why must Sickert have 'something seriously wrong with him' because of how he painted and what he painted? Would you make the same judgement about Agatha Christie or the author of Sherlock Holmes or, indeed, Patricia Cornwell because their works of fiction included many gruesome murders?
Please, before you make a final judgement about Sickert's work, have a look at some more of his paintings such as those he painted in Dieppe (one of bathers, and another of horse racing). Do some reading around Sickert's style and what he was trying to accomplish. He was a 'narrative' painter - not just trying to reproduce a pretty picture - but attempting to capture a story, a spirit, feelings, atmosphere and so on.
Last edited by Limehouse : 02-09-2013 at 11:16 AM.
Sickert IS undoubtedly of interest to "Ripperphiles" since his name has been linked to the case (not necessarily as the killer) from various sources - Florence Pash/Osbert Sitwell even before Knight and Cornwell.
I went to the Royal Academy exhibition of his works, many years ago (and still have the massive catalogue) in part because of the Ripper connection. You are right that it is crucial to see his paintings in real life to "appreciate" them.
Sickert was, as has been said elsewhere on Casebook, not some saddo artist with issues - he was highly influential on those who came after him. Drawing snap and superficial judgements based on a subjective view of his work is not (IMHO) sufficient.
That said, he does seem to have been fascinated by murder - not least the 1888 killings. And Cornwell has done enough to suggest that he may well have written some of the letters sent to the police. I don't see that as out of character - but it does NOT make him the murderer, indeed, I'd suggest it makes him LESS likely to be the killer.
In another thread I cited a possible origin for his "fetish" of a red bandana handkerchief. In his youth Sickert had been part of Irving's Lyceum company. The scenic artist at the Lyceum - and one might assume that the artistic Sickert would have known him - always wore a red bandana as (as one writer put it) a signal for action. I wonder whether this was something Sickert picked up and adopted in his own way.
I think it's important to always keep the Ripper case and Sickert's art separated if you really want to get the whole picture of his works as it reduces the narrative character of his series of paintings as Julie so aptly put it to the gloomy aspects of his style.
However, this what many people perceive as depressing gloom is the result of a different, a new light (both literally and figuratively) in which Sickert wants us to see the objects and subjects of his paintings. The deconstruction often seen in his works (like the obliterated face of La Hollandaise) can be seen as aggressive, but to me, it's part of his style to make the viewer concentrate on the story behind a painting instead of reducing its single elements to mere symbolism.
This was Cornwell's major mistake, she formed a theory by taking things out of context but never got the deeper meaning of Sickert's paintings. What she did with some of his original works was unforgivable in my opinion.
~ All perils, specially malignant, are recurrent - Thomas De Quincey ~
What one person finds as horrible others see genius. Personal feelings about the paintings of Walter Sickert range from no talent to absolute masterpieces.
I have looked at every Sickert painting I can find, not just the ones that supposedly show sign of murderous intent. I do not like the style Sickert painted, but it was his style in all his paintings not just the ones Cornwell suspects. So one mustn't judge the ones one finds strange as all of them show that same partially unfinished style.
The irony as I have said elsewhere is that Cornwell spent a fortune collecting original Sickert paintings. And I will bet she wouldn't part with any of them unless she made a handsome profit on them. She has actually made the painting increase in value.
Sickert can be suspected as he was in the area at the time of the murders, was always furtive in his comings and goings as he liked secret studios in which to paint, and he was known to hire prostitutes as models. Also he had connections to other suspects, (Royal Conspiracy) and probably penned some of the Ripper letters, Cornwell's evidence there being hard to refute. Suspect, yes. Paintings as proof of murderous actions, not by a long shot. Even the letters aren't proof of guilt, just that he enjoyed bedeviling the authorities with letters claiming to be from JtR.
And the questions always linger, no real answer in sight