WALTER SICKERT Biography - Theater, Opera and Movie personalities


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Walter Richard Sickert (May 31, 1860 - January 22, 1942) was an English impressionist painter. His father was Danish-German and his mother Anglo-Irish; Sickert was a cosmopolitan who favored ordinary people and scenes as his subject.


Although he was the son and grandson of painters, Sickert at first sought a career as an actor, appearing in small parts in Sir Henry Irving’s company before taking up the study of art as assistant to James McNeill Whistler. He later went to Paris and studied with Edgar Degas.


He became an impressionist painter, but one with strong overtones of modernism. Indeed, just before World War I he championed the careers of modernists Lucien Pissarro , Jacob Epstein, Augustus John and Wyndham Lewis. He said he preferred the kitchen to the drawing room as a scene for paintings, but he also showed the influence of Degas in his many paintings of music hall and theatrical scenes.


Degas also influenced him in using photographs as the basis for paintings, and in his later career Sickert used photographs and reworkings of Victorian paintings almost exclusively. He is considered an eccentric but influential figure of the transition from impressionism to modernism.


One of Sickert’s closest friends and supporters was newspaper baron Lord Beaverbrook, who accumulated the largest single collection of Sickert paintings in the world. This collection, along with a large amount of private correspondence between Sickert and Lord Beaverbook, are in the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada.


The Ripper theory


In recent years, Sickert’s name has been connected with Jack the Ripper.


In 1976, Stephen Knight ’s Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution (re-released in 1984), contended that Sickert had been forced to take part as an accomplice in the Ripper murders. Knight claimed the killings occurred because of Mary Jane Kelly’s attempt to commit blackmail after she had fallen on hard times. She supposedly had been the nanny for Alice Margaret Crook, the daughter in an unauthorized marriage between Prince Eddie and Annie Crook, an acquaintance of Sickert. Sickert was claimed to have introduced Prince Eddie to Annie Crook. Since Sickert had been in on the situation from the start, the theory goes, he assisted Dr. William Gull and coachman John Netley in locating and killing the women involved in the blackmail scheme.


Jean Overton Fuller, in Sickert and the Ripper Crimes (1990), claimed that Sickert was the actual killer instead of just an accomplice. The opinions of Knight and Fuller are not accepted by other Ripper scholars.


In 2002, crime novelist Patricia Cornwell, in Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper - Case Closed (2002), presented her theory that Sickert was responsible for the serial murders in Whitechapel in the late 19th century. She also believes he committed many other murders. She bases her assertions on DNA comparisons, opinions about Sickert’s paintings and sketches, and the suggestion that Sickert had a penis that was deformed from birth, which she claims would make him incapable of sexual intercourse.


Cornwell purchased 31 paintings by Sickert and is said to have destroyed one or more of them searching for Sickert’s DNA, which Cornwell denies. She DNA-tested numerous stamps and envelopes she believed to have been licked by Sickert, and compared them to stamps and envelopes from letters claiming to be written by Jack the Ripper. Most of these contained no DNA evidence at all, which is unsurprising considering how old they are and how they have been treated over the years. She reports that, in one case, the mitochondrial DNA that she assumes is from Sickert cannot be ruled out as being a match to the mitochondrial DNA found in one of the “Jack the Ripper” letters.


At the time of her research and book publication, Cornwell was not aware of the collection of Sickert documents at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery , which is likely to provide DNA on stamps. Cornwell is continuing to finance further DNA testing in pursuit of her hypothesis. In recent talks, she has claimed new evidence of a connection between stationery (assumed to be the envelopes and letters by Sickert to Lord Beaverbrook) and other Ripper-related letters held by Scotland Yard.


Critics of her theory note that the comparisons have only focused on mitochondrial DNA, which, depending on the expert queried, would be shared by between 10% and .1% of the population. Cornwell openly admits the limitations of mitochondrial DNA testing, but defends it as the only DNA test possible at this time, given the available DNA sources.


Critics also note that most, if not all, of the letters are believed by most Ripper experts (including Scotland Yard) to be hoaxes. Even if Cornwell can eventually prove that Sickert wrote one or more of the letters claiming to be from the Ripper, that would not be proof that he actually was the killer.


Cornwell’s claim that Sickert had a deformed penis has also been disputed. The artist was known to have several wives and lovers, reportedly resulting in several children (including Joseph Sickert, the man Knight got his Royal Conspiracy theory from). This would seem to make the theory that Sickert could not perform sexually unlikely. Further, the doctor that Sickert visited for his fistula problem did not normally treat penises, but rather was more of a proctologist. Fistulas also can develop on anuses, a fact which would seem to fit the available evidence better than Cornwell’s claims that he had disfigured penis.


Most problematic for Cornwell’s theory is the fact that a number of letters from the Sickert family place the artist as vacationing in France for a length of time that overlaps the dates of most of the canonical Ripper murders. Cornwell and her supporters claim that he could have traveled on a ship back to London and then returned to France on all of these occasions, but have shown no evidence that he did so.