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Art and Images in Psychiatry |

The Camden Town Murder (or What Shall We Do About the Rent?)

James C. Harris, MD
Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2008;65(5):496. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.65.5.496.
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Throughout his life, Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942), who began his career as a stage actor, was renowned for his imaginative, indeed protean, ability to change “his appearance, opinions, or style of life.”2(p8)He loved disguise and frequently changed his identity as he played out many roles. Crime novelist Patricia Cornwell concluded that one of those roles was a real-life one, that of the notorious London Whitechapel murderer, Jack the Ripper, who slaughtered and mutilated middle-aged prostitutes. Following up a comment made by a deputy assistant commissioner, John Grieve, at Scotland Yard about Sickert and his painting The Camden Town Murder(cover),3(p11)Cornwell employed modern forensic diagnostic methods along with a great deal of imaginative speculation in her book that proposed that Sickert was the Whitechapel murderer, Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper: Case Closed.3Because Sickert was cremated and had no living descendents, Cornwell, seeking evidence, purchased his writing desk, some letters, and more than 30 of his paintings. She denies destroying paintings while seeking samples of nuclear DNA.

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Walter Sickert (1860-1942), British. The Camden Town Murder, 1908. Oil on canvas, 101/16 × 14 in (25.6 × 35.6 cm). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund. ©2008 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/DACS, London.

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