Jack the Ripper’s Bedroom: Walter Sickert

Jack the Ripper’s Bedroom: Walter Sickert

Jack the Ripper’s Bedroom is a 1907 oil on canvas Impressionist painting by German-born British painter and printmaker artist Walter Sickert (1860 – 1942).

Jack the Ripper’s Bedroom was painted 16 years after the Whitechapel Murders ended in 1891 and the painting has significant notoriety with implications that Sickert was Jack the Ripper himself, although these have been largely dismissed in recent years.

Jack the Ripper’s Bedroom is an imaginary vision by painter Walter Sickert of his contemporary — the world’s most famous serial killer — in a rented room in the North-West of London. This painting is the primary reason why Sickert himself has been studied after his death by The Ripper’s countless analysts as perhaps being Jack the Ripper.

Painted in characteristically vague splotches of color taken from a narrow range of pigments (all blacks and browns), Sickert’s canvas — today somewhat degraded — seemingly shows a doorway into a room. Inside, in the middle, at some distance and right in front of a blinded window, stands a seemingly male figure all in black — with no head.

It is a vertical canvas defined by strong vertical geometries: doorframes, the chair in the bottom-left, the doors of the armoire, the tall window, and, most spectacularly, the utterly mysterious human subject standing before us — all point us upwards. At the same time, the off-center perspective beloved by Sickert is so elevated with respect to the threshold as to imply that we are in fact standing face to face with this man in black.

The man in the picture, whom we instinctively suppose to be The Ripper, is depicted without a head. The part of his anatomy which would most clearly indicate who he is has been left out, suggesting that Sickert, like the rest of us, does not know his identity. In fact, the more we look the more we realize that every detail that could help us identify him as against other men has been studiously obliterated.

We merely see a human shape of at least average height. We assume him to be a man on account of his posture and clothing. It is entirely black, including his shoes, except for an orange strip which might be a belt, if it is not a decoration. He also wears an impeccably black long coat that reaches down to the carpet.

He is a thrillingly ominous figure that we appear to have chanced upon. Or, perhaps, he is waiting for us as he knew we were coming…

The picture originates with the seemingly accidental occurrence of Sickert renting a room in North-West London (Mornington Crescent 6, Somers Town) and being told by his landlady that, according to her, Jack the Ripper may have once lived there. He would have supposedly lived there in 1881. The Ripper then committed his gruesome killings in 1888, and Sickert executed his painting between 1905 and 1907.

Although biographers have pointed out Walter Sickert’s likely absence from England at the time of The Ripper’s alleged murders, and despite the fact that Sickert was never seriously discussed as a suspect by the mainstream historians of the Ripper case, the hypothesis has surfaced occasionally in both fiction and non-fiction that Walter Sickert was in fact Jack the Ripper.

Sickert was, however, like many of his contemporaries, engrossed with the story of the Ripper murders. He was similarly attracted by the Camden Town Murder of 1907 which, like the Ripper murders, involved a prostitute as a victim.

Although the four paintings of that series are today known as “The Camden Town Murder”, Sickert’s own titles have to do with his interest in the material conditions of the beleaguered and the destitute.

Walter Sickert’s Jack the Ripper’s Bedroom can be found in the Manchester Art Gallery in the United Kingdom.

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