FOUR paintings depicting an Edwardian murder scene have gone on show together for the first time, resurrecting speculation that Walter Sickert, the artist, had serial killer tendencies.
Sickert, who died in Bath in 1942, has been accused by Patricia Cornwell, the American crime writer, of being Jack the Ripper. He would have been 28 when five prostitutes were murdered in the East End of London in 1888.
Cornwell also speculated on whether Sickert committed the crime he depicted two decades later in the quartet of pictures known collectively as The Camden Town Murder.
They were painted in 1908 and 1909 after the murder of another prostitute, Emily Dimmock, in north London. One appears to show Dimmock lying dead on a bed with her killer standing over her.
Now that the four paintings have gone on show at the Courtauld Institute at Somerset House, in London, it will raise once again the question of why Sickert was so interested in prostitutes and murder.
For Cornwell it will inevitably help to support her view that Sickert could have been the killer.
“Sickert had previously been to Dimmock’s house,” she said. “He certainly was intrigued by the murder and lived and worked very close by.”
Robert Wood, the man accused of the murder, was acquitted. So could it have been the artist?
“Sickert used prostitutes and was clearly intrigued by murder,” said Barnaby Wright, curator of the Courtauld exhibition. “The four paintings seem to show that Sickert is revelling in a crime. But that is very, very different from him committing a crime.”
Waldemar Januszczak, The Sunday Times art critic, said: “These are some of the most controversial pictures in British art, but I’m certain they are not the paintings of a murderer. They are just sad little paintings about furtive afternoon romps which Sickert successfully made notorious by giving them immensely controversial titles.”
Matthew Sturgis, Sickert’s biographer, agreed. “I think he did these paintings because he saw the chance to create a bit of excitement. It was a piece of opportunism by Sickert.”