Over the last thirty years or so, ever since a book by Stephen King, rumours and theories have abounded that Walter Richard Sickert was jack the Ripper. Patricia Cornwell seemed to have been obsessed with the idea and even bought and destroyed a painting of his in search of his DNA to match with a letter which she claimed proved it.
I’d seen pictures in books and magazines by him, but until recently, I had never actually seen any of his work… when i did I was stunned at his brilliance.
He captures a moment so perfectly it almost seems he took a photo, not that his pictures have the flat truth of a photo, his work leaps of the page the people are characters who could turn and look at you any second, and speak maybe, curse or greet you. The picture above of Mr Steer and Mr Sickert, painted in 1930 absolutely sums up these two men slumped, post drinks maybe, in comfortable companionship. I like the detail of the cabinets bursting with stuff, the mantelpiece crowded with things, the fire cosily dying in the grate.
He was born in Munich in 1860, his father was half-German, half Danish, and his mother was English. The family moved to England when Walter Richard was still young and he was educated here, at first thinking of becoming an actor. However he became a painter, influenced by the Impressionists, and I was interested to find out that he worked from memory and sketches to produce his early work… I’m not comparing myself to him but I write from memory and imagination – I don’t make copious and detailed plans, it all springs from what’s inside my noddle!
Many of his paintings have such realism, a gritty, urban style, and with ordinary working class people and places as subjects, in ordinary situations. The picture above was originally entitled ‘What Shall we Do For The Rent’ but it was widely believed to be a picture of a real murder, of a young prostitute in Camden. However, there is no violence her, no blood or gore, only a desperate sadness, so whether the intention was to portray a brutal murder or not, the picture is open to interpretation… which I like.
He married three times and died not far away from where we live, in Bath in 1941.