Biography (1860 - 1942)
Header Photo: Jack the Ripper's Bedroom, c. 1907 (Detail)
Oil on canvas, 50.8 x 40.7 cm
Manchester City Gallery
© Estate of Walter Sickert
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Walter Sickert ~ Biography
Painter (1860 - 1942)
Known as: English Impressionist painter
Born: May 31, 1860, Munich, Germany
Date of death: January 22, 1942, Bath, England
What a fascinating artist. What a fascinating life. Of course, spice is added to the alledged links with the greatest murder mystery case ever, that of the Victorian slasher, Jack the Ripper. Whilst I don't belive he was anything to do with the case I do think that Sickert himself would have revelled in such speculation.
But boy oh boy if he had been Jack the Ripper... The ethereal yet dank loneliness in his Camden Town Nudes produced between 1905 and 1912 echo perfectly the squalor of the East End of London a few years before when the murders took place. I know the area and have even been on one of the made-for-tourists Jack the Ripper tours that is still to this day such a lucrative cottage industry. On it, in little pockets, you get a feel for the landscape of the Victorian slums on those days bathed in the dim, sinster glow of gaslight. You can feel the fear, a cold fear wrapped in mists and somewhere in the mist is the ethereal outline of a figure, waiting for someone. Somewhere in the shadows he remains, forever part of the history of Whitechapel, forever slashing into the underbelly of the area.
Murder by Victorian gaslight; poverty yielding endless possibilities for murder.
Sickert was as fascinated as anyone by the murders but that doesn't make him the mythical murderer. For my part, I believe the murderer was someone who could traverse those satanic, terraced streets without yielding a second glance. No artist, no prince, no gentlemanly lodger who would have stood out like a sore thumb. One of the main suspects, Montague John Druitt, is a stretch too far for me. Nah, for me he would have been just an 'ordinary' man with an 'extraordinary' appetite for slashing females into bits. Someone who could disappear into a Whitechapel crowd as soon as the blade was secreted; someone who could vanish into the underground of East End life by standing shoulder to shoulder, anonymously, with the 'in' crowd of those streets and those times.
Say what you like about Sickert but he was never an everyday man.
So the mystery remains. Just who was the ultimate slasher? And just where was Jack the Ripper's bedroom? Is there anyone alive today who knows for sure, or has some evidence, a note, anything, to put this mystery to bed once and for all.
For as of today there is still nothing on the table compelling enough to be conclusive.
Walter Richard Sickert has been described as one of the most important of the British Impressionists though to me his work could hardly be called full-on Impressionism. The main influences on his work were those he knew, Whistler and Degas.
He was an artist with no real interest in the countryside. He painted the London music halls and their audiences, the shabbier parts of not just London but places like Dieppe and Venice. An extraordinary man capturing the ordinary rubbish of your life and my life.
In 1911 he founded the Camden Town Group and later belonged to the London Group, the NEAC and the RA, though he resigned from there.
He made extensive use of studio assistants and also etched and wrote a great deal.
At various stages in his life he was connected with the stage.
In recent years, Sickert's name has been connected with Jack the Ripper, in particularly by the American crime novelist Patricia Cornwell who in her 2002 book Portrait Of A Killer: Jack The Ripper -- Case Closed, that Sickert was responsible for the murders.
Case closed. Do me a favour. How anyone can say that is beyond me, particularly as her 'evidence' is flimsy at best. Tales of deformed penises, dodgy DNA theories, and 'clues' in his paintings and drawings do not go anywhere near to penetrating the mystery.
Perhaps the biggest problem with her 'Case Closed theories is that the guy wasn't even in the country when most of them happened. This might of been even beyond such an eccentric as Sickert to be in two places at once. But 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 Ripper murders.
But hey: why let that little detail get in the way of Ms Cornwall making a further shedload of cash through sales of her 'definative' and 'the end' book on Jack the Ripper.
Sickert was interested in the crime, and may or not have lodged in the room used by Jack the Sickert, I mean Ripper and painted the room, entitling it Jack the Ripper's bedroom.
That is all that links him to Jack the Ripper.
Walter Sickert ~ Key Dates
1860: Born May 31, in Munich, Germany. Father Oswald Danish-German; his mother Eleanor the illegitimate daughter of astronomer Richard Sheepshanks. Sister Helena Swanwick would become a feminist and pacifist active in the women's suffrage movement
1878: Left King's College School. Became an actor before becoming an assistant to James McNeill Whistler. Later meets Degas and heavily influenced by him
1907: Became interested in the Camden town murder, the killing of a local prostitute.
1911: Camden Town Group officially established
1942: Died on January 22 in Bath at the age of 81
Walter Sickert ~ Trivia
With reference to the Jack the Ripper murders of which Sickert's name has been linked to (as well as, perhaps more bizarrely, Lewis Carroll), there were 3,000 or so murders in Whitechapel in the 10 years around 1888 of which these were five.
Worked at the bottom of the Impressionist tone scale. His light effects gleam out from sombre colours and tones
Towards the end of his life he made a series of pictures based either on newspaper and other photographs or on Victorian magazine illustrations
Favored ordinary people and urban scenes as his subject matter
The artist had several wives and lovers, and probaly fathered several children
His best known work is Ennui
Sickert hailed as Giovanni Boldini (1845-1931) as 'the non pareil parent of the wriggle and chiffon school'.
In 1891, completed the head-and-shoulders composition of George Moore. Now in Tate Britain, London.
His compostion of Aubrey Beardsley, 1894, was inspired by an event which took place on 16th July 1894 in Hampstead Church: the unveiling of a bust of the poet John Keats. After the service, Beardsley was observed walking off through the graveyard making clumsy efforts to avoid the graves and, as Sickert wrote, 'falling over the embarrassing mounds that tripped his feet'. He had been overcome by a fit of coughing. Beardsley, like Keats, was to die of tuberculosis in his twenties.
Admired William Quiller Orchardson's Master Baby.
He said of the work of Philip Wilson Steer (1860-1942) 'these paintings make you feel that sunshine and wind and youth are glorious things'.
He once said: 'No-one could be more English than I am - born in Munich in 1860, of pure Danish descent!' He also had a dash of Anglo-Irish blood on his mother's side.
Both his father and grandfather were painters.
The family settled in London in 1868.
For a number of years, worked as an actor touring with Henry Irving.
He became a student at the Slade in 1881. He left the following year to become Whistler's pupil and assistant.
Gained experience of etching techniques when helping to print Whistler's plates.
He worked for Degas for two years.
Over seventy drawings exist for the Gatti's Hungerford Palace of Varieties: Second Turn of Katie Lawrence, c. 1887-8. The painting is now at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.
In 1889, he was one of a group of artists who opened an independant exhibition at the Goupil Gallery called The London Impressionists. Most of the works on view were of London themes.
Further Reading: Victorian Painting [Book, 2003]
Walter Sickert ~ Public Collections
Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada (Beaverbrook Art Gallery)
Walter Sickert: Biography >> Trivia >> Key Dates >> Public Collections >> Sickert's London UK Dvd >> Walter Sickert: A Life Book Review >> Gallery >> Victorian Painters Index >> Walter Sickert Prints, Books and Dvds available @ amazon.com