Crime novelist Patricia Cornwell has bought no fewer than 32 of Sickert’s paintings in her quest to prove he was the serial killer who terrorised late 19th-century Whitechapel. Cornwell claims she now has crucial evidence, including watermarks on letters, that puts Sickert in the frame as London’s most notorious murderer. She’s not the first Ripperologist to take an interest in him: Sickert also appears in Alan Moore’s graphic novel about the case, From Hell. But no one else has bought up a load of his paintings, taking them out of the public eye to use as “scientific” evidence, or spent more than a decade trying to put him, posthumously, in the noose. A noose it is, for Cornwell’s accusation burns out Sickert’s real achievements and irradiates him as an artist. Here is a bold painter who was not afraid to put sex and sleaze into his art at a time when most British artists were timid and repressed. He dares the radical urban danger that artists in Paris were so alive to. Why does that make him a likely serial killer? Ripperologists are the last Victorian prudes, associating sex and evil.
So he just happened to show up at the crime scene before the body was removed and innocently asked if he might have a look inside and do a few sketches. Sickert was the local artist, a charming fellow I doubt the police would have refused him his request. They probably told him all about the crime.
It is said that we are a great literary nation but we really don’t care about literature, we like films and we like a good murder. If there is not a murder about every day they put one in. They have put in every murder which has occurred during the past ten years again, even the Camden Town murder. Not that I am against that because I once painted a whole series about the Camden Town murder, and after all murder is as good a subject as any other.
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Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed.