Sunday, 11 November 2007


Below: 'The Iron Bedstead', c 1906. The period may only be vaguely defined. In my opinion the date is much earlier. Iron bedsteads from hospitals, maternity units and the oh so unalike homely and suggestive big brass bedsteads, are major themes in Walter Sickert's work. They respectively infer the confinement of Annie Crook, 'La Giuseppina' ( The 'Josephina' ) and the series of torture she endured at the hands of William Gull and Section d Special Branch, and the pregnancy and development of 'La Carolina', usually the one lain down on the 'big brass bed' ..she's usually a direct reference to Mary Kelly.

The temptation at the sight of the sketch below is to instantly compare 'the little room' to Mary Kelly's little rented place at no. 13, Miller's Court, where incidentally she never lived; this was a room rented out for clandestine meetings. There is one striking comparison however: the bolster on the bed, which appears to be made from a tightly rolled mattress, is lain in the same place as the identical tightly rolled 'mattress bolster' on Mary Kelly's bed, in the authentic forensic pictures. This reference appears to be beyond coincidence.

Look at the woman lain out on the bed, bearing that in mind. She seems lifeless, as though lying in some type of a wrapped sheet, or 'shroud.' Her slender feet protrude from beneath the end of the sheeting; her face seems to have been covered by a shawl, such as Mary was described wearing by the key witness, on the night she died. This 'iron bedstead' where the dead Mary Kelly's form conceivably lies, is seen from a gentleman's writing desk, upon which a Victorian gent would of course write his letters. (Click to enlarge.)

Walter Sickert intended us to focus on the enshrouded woman lying on the bed, rather than the perspective.....on this occasion. Here below, the corresponding 'Gallery Painting' ; 'Theatre de Monmartre', (no alternative title available) circa 1906; it first saw the light of day in 1924, when it was purchased from the Goupil Gallery by Lord John Maynard Keynes. Last exhibited by its current owners the Fitzwilliam Musuem in 1983. ( Click to enlarge.)

The above oil painting 'Theatre de Monmantre' was painted at the same time as 'La Gaiete Rauchuart' , in which we see Prince Eddy, Mary and young Jo in the Gallery box, and the stage singer in her red dress and her eighteenth century bustle reflected in the mirror behind them. That's the 'Courtesan' picture, where Eddie and Mary seem to be 'Up in the Gallery' (click to review). . Sickert tells us as much in a letter to William Rothenstein written in 1906; ' I want another fortnight here to finish four or five pictures as good Noctes Ambrosianae, only red and blue plates, instead of black ones. The Eldorado, The GaiƩte Rochechouart, the Theatre de Monmantre..' We may accordingly assume a deliberate association on his part between the three pictures he mentions here, and further, that they are probably a part of an intended series.

The oil painting 'Theatre de Monmantre' usually receives scant comment from the critics, perhaps because in it we see at a glance the case that they all so eagerly avoid. The 'Jack the Ripper' inferences. Here, in this painting, the players are all 'up in the gallery'. ....their faces , 'painted a s slippery blobs of ochres and browns, accentuated by darting jabs of black...resemble grotesque masks...' Yet they're animated; they watch a play played out, on stage. Still this painting does not depict a tender and beautiful Irish/Jacobite awakening; there's no prophet, no lively singer, no song. They're dead. We have the enshrouded , the lost, the waiting.

There's an expressly perverse, yet touching picture of the dead, lifted, enshrouded Mary Kelly, wearing the same lovely hat (minus feather) that she wears in 'La Gaiete Rauchuart' , her mutilated body wrapped in a sheet, just as it appears when lain on the bed in the sketch 'The Iron Bedstead' above; and she sits, mutilated remains wrapped in her 'bloody sheet', on Catharine Kitty Eddowes' knee. It is 'Kitty Eddowes'. Sickert paints Catharine's mutilated mouth exactly as it appears in Catharine Eddowes' forensic pictures ( now held in the National Archives.) And would you look at that lovely brimmed hat that Kitty has above her mutilated face with its widely slashed throat.. That's our Kitty.

The scene going on behind Mary and Kitty's seats is just as interesting. Sickert infers the gallery box boldly displayed in the paintings mentioned above, yet two or three players now sit or stand beneath a clearly Parisian box-canopy.

Yes, it's them... the guardians who looked after little 'Jo'- who is inferred -the little boy in the cap that looks like a cricket cap-in the 'Old Beford' sketches (click to review.) Look at the manner in which the gent in standing position, in the top gallery box, bends forward a little; this is the exact stance taken by the guardian beside 'Jo' in the gallery boxes surrounded by the figures that evoke the little putti in the Vatican (cherubs.)

Jacobite art 'mirror inference'? Yes, there is a treacherous looking bowler hatted figure lurking inside the mirror top left, far left hand corner of the painting, and yes, there is the suggestion that this rather devious looking figure is surreptitiously surveying the figures on the balcony.

Readers familiar with the casework will already recall that one of the key issues in the Doctor's notes and forensic evidence relating to Mary Kelly's Inquest that distances her forensic evidence from the other undisputed 'Jack the Ripper' victims is her missing heart. The absence of the heart was reported by Dr. Bond, Police Doctor who carried out an examination of her corporal remains at 11.00 am on the morning after her murder 9th of November, 1888.

Mary Kelly's forensic detail is a matter that Walter Sickert associates with the 'Jacobite mirror '... forensic detail that he takes perhaps most seriously of all. In his celebrated self -portrait, 'The Painter in His Studio' or 'The Parlor Mantelpiece' , c. 1907, he communicates the depth and extent of his concern with Mary Kelly's mystery and her remains (which visibly extend beyond an artist's academic interest in crime).

In that painting (below) he depicts himself confronting the viewer, conveying profound empathy with the suspicion and grief that he intimates might be expressed by witnesses to the fact that Mary Kelly probably was assassinated. He projects a statue of Botticelli's Venus, ( to the left of the picture) with its limbs severed- in almost exactly the way in which limbs appear to be severed and desecrated in the Special Branch forensic photographs of Mary Kelly (that were not available to the public except through one scarce French publication in 1907). Behind the violated image of Botticelli's beauty, a mirror, into the frame of which someone appears to have tucked a love-letter. A letter envelope.... a letter, I would say. There appears to be a reciprocating letter tucked in the other mirror on our right.

In the picture (below) we see a reflection of Walter Sickert, looking into the mantelpiece mirror. Note the edge of the painting frame at the far left of the picture. ( he doesn't make it instantly apparent- then again, that's not unusual..) In the reflected painter's right hand, the painter's left hand, ( as shown here) a painter's brush and palette; in the reflection's left, a white rose, emblem of the Stuart Order of the Rose.

Walter Sickert's ability to depict contra-jour, illumination and reflected light are among the talents that best define his personalized genius. Most of us struggle to define any type of light, whatever the paint mix: this painter uses paint to create light that conveys insight, precious moments sealed of human memory; emotion.. longing... Here though, the the light he portrays is restricted to highlighting the face of the painter and the ruin of Botticelli's Venus 'with deliberate, constructive intent.' (Wendy Baron 1992.)

A scarce few have remarked that the heap of what looks like body matter situated between the two statue icons evokes the human entrails placed on a table to the left of Mary Kelly's murdered body, in the forensic photograph. It does; there's a thinly disguised play on the shape of a female heart amidst the flesh like amalgamation, (distorted a little, for impression's sake). The heart shape amid the body matter might demonstrate an attachment to the 'pericardia', reaching a little way into the air, stemming from a slender heart shape similar to the one upheld by the putto on Clementina's monument. But it is not vivid for comparison. It seems to be topped with some sort of attached body matter, such as a roughly detached heart may be, prior to being cleaned in surgery.

Referring to the image above: to the reflected painter's left (our right), in front of a smaller, parlor mirror, another statue, evocative of the maternal angle on Michelangelo's 'La Pieta' ( The Pity) , the Italian master's early sculpture, depicting Mary holding Christ's transient 'dead body' close to her own after his crucifixion. Observe the shape of the shoulder that Mary holds above the collapsed crucified limbs; observe the tilt of Christ's head. Compare the statues' limbs and its head tilt, against those in the statue to the reflected painter's left. (Our right).

The sculptured Italian masterpiece, (right) still contained in the first chapel to the right inside the Vatican directly opposite Queen Clementina's monument, is a different picture of charity, pity and the weightlessness of innocence from every angle. Sickert's carefully transposed a suggestion of its form without assaulting its uniqueness.

Behind Walter Sickert's suggestion of 'La Pieta', a mirror where another letter has been tucked inside a golden frame. A reciprocating letter. One assumes.

Walter Sickert sets the transition phase experienced by the broken hearted Christ (as depicted by Michelangelo) against the destroyed body of the gentle heiress that the Stuarts saw as personally sacred.

A closer look at Walter Sickert's painting reveals the aspect that validates the all important 'secondary title' that almost invariably infers a secret . In this case, 'The Parlor Mantelpiece'. The whole painting is a reflection in a mantelpiece mirror: this is overtly demonstrated by a) the mantelpiece mirror frame on the edge of painting on the far left and b) the reflection of the statue that evokes 'La Pieta', the reflection of which in the mirror behind it in the room is reflected in the mirror into which Walter Sickert looks, hence the 'double reflection' and c), the light painted onto the surface of the painting, which in fact suggests light on mirror glass.

Many of the objects in the picture are the kind of figurative symbols that generally appear in mirrors depicted by Sickert; such as the flesh pile and the secret, near magical suggestions surrounding the statue images.

Not to detract from the quality of the suggestion ( I do not want to do Cornwell here) but let's look (for a moment) at the contents of the painter's room when it is not reflected -which we can easily be achieved by an inversion of the painting:

Left: the picture seen from the 'Parlor mantelpiece' standpoint, looking into the room, at the painter in his studio'. There is no specific further information to be gleaned from inverting the painting except of course for an intended display of the lettering and names on the envelopes tucked inside the painted mirror frames. Or at least, emphasis on the suggestion that reciprocating love letters from 'someone' to a Catholic mother are at the heart of this affair.

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