Walter Richard Sickert (May 31, 1860 - January 22, 1942) was an English impressionist painter. His father was Danish-German and his mother Anglo-Irish; Sickert was a cosmopolitan who favored ordinary people and scenes as his subject.

Although he was the son and grandson of painters, Sickert at first sought a career as an actor, appearing in small parts in Sir Henry Irving's company before taking up the study of art as assistant to James McNeill Whistler. He later went to Paris and studied with Edgar Degas.

He became an impressionist painter, but one with strong overtones of modernism. Indeed, just before World War I he championed the careers of modernists Lucien Pissarro, Jacob Epstein, Augustus John and Wyndham Lewis. He said he preferred the kitchen to the drawing room as a scene for paintings, but he also showed the influence of Degas in his many paintings of music hall and theatrical scenes.

Degas also influenced him in using photographs as the basis for paintings, and in his later career Sickert used photographs and reworkings of Victorian paintings almost exclusively. He is considered an eccentric but influential figure of the transition from impressionism to modernism.

One of Sickert's closest friends and supporters was newspaper baron Lord Beaverbrook, who accumulated the largest single collection of Sickert paintings in the world. This collection, along with a large amount of private correspondence between Sickert and Lord Beaverbook, are in the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada.

The Ripper Theory

In recent years, Sickert's name has been connected with Jack the Ripper. In 1976, Stephen Knight's Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution (re-released in 1984), contended that Sickert had been forced to take part in a coverup of the Duke of Clarence, a son of Queen Victoria who was said to have been the Ripper. This theme was later taken up by Jean Overton Fuller in Sickert and the Ripper Crimes (1990).

In 2002, crime novelist Patricia Cornwell, in Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper - Case Closed (2002), presented her theory that Sickert was responsible for the serial murders in Whitechapel in the late 19th century. She also believes he committed many other murders. She bases her assertions on a combination of DNA evidence, artistic analysis of Sickert's paintings and sketches, his tendency (in the opinion of Cornwell and others) to denigrate women in his paintings, and the fact that (according to Cornwell's research) Sickert had a penis that was almost certainly deformed from birth, and that he was likely incapable of sexual intercourse.

In her investigation, Cornwell purchased 31 paintings by Sickert and is said to have destroyed one or more of them searching for Sickert's DNA, which Cornwell denies. She DNA-tested numerous stamps and envelopes she believed to have been licked by Sickert, and compared them to stamps and envelopes from letters claiming to be written by Jack the Ripper. She reports that, in a number of cases, the DNA that is presumably from Sickert matches the DNA found in "Jack the Ripper" letters. At the time of her research and book publication, Cornwell was not aware of the collection of Sickert documents at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, which is likely to provide DNA on stamps. Cornwell is continuing to finance further DNA testing in pursuit of her hypothesis. In recent talks, she has claimed new evidence of a connection between stationery (assumed to be the envelopes and letters by Sickert to Lord Beaverbrook of which she was formally notified) and letters held by Scotland Yard said to have been from Jack the Ripper.

Critics of her theory note that the comparisons so far have only focused on mitochondrial DNA, which (depending on the expert queried) would be shared by between 10% and .1% of the population. Cornwell openly admits the limitations of mitochondrial DNA testing, but defends it as the only DNA test possible at this time, given the available DNA sources. Critics also note that most, if not all, of the letters have been assumed by most Ripper experts (including Scotland Yard) to be hoaxes, so that even if she can prove that Sickert wrote one or more of the letters, it would not mean she has proof that he killed anyone. Some critics believe that it is highly likely that Sickert was in France during most of the Ripper murders, although no conclusive evidence has yet surfaced to place Sickert's whereabouts during any of the crimes.

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