|A Ripperologist Article
|This article originally appeared in Ripperologist No. 12, August 1997. Ripperologist is the most respected Ripper periodical on the market and has garnered our highest recommendation for serious students of the case. For more information, view our Ripperologist page. Our thanks to the editor of Ripperologist for permission to reprint this article.
To the artistic eye and mind, brutal murder and its horrific and vivid outcome has always been a powerful stimulus to the imagination of the artist.
As we know, Walter Sickert was inspired to paint a series of pictures based on the Camden Town Murder and his belief that he once rented a room in Mornington Crescent formally occupied by Jack the Veterinary Ripper resulted in a picture entitled 'Jack the Ripper's Bedroom', now on show at the Manchester Art Gallery. Indeed, it has been said that many of his paintings contain Ripper themes.
In 1926 the young Alfred Hitchcock directed The Lodger, a Ripper-based story, and he continued the artistic and thematic device of Whores and Murderers throughout his film-making career. In a book called Hitchcock and Homosexuality - His 50 Year Obsession with Jack the Ripper and the Superbitch Prostitute - a Psychoanalytical View by Theodore Price, the author states: 'Hitchcock, for whatever reason, associates "raincoats with his Jack the Rippers. Raincoats are therefore (and appear many, many times), clues to the appearance of the Jack the Ripper theme. In a Hitchcock film, the message we get from his typical hero/villains (Ivor Novello in The Lodger, Joseph Cotten in Shadow of Doubt, Robert Walker in Strangers on a Train, Tony Perkins in Psycho and Barry Foster in Frenzy) is that all women are bitches, all women are whores and deserve to be killed... Hitch's Jack the Ripper figures believe that Vengeance is Theirs'.
The imagery and blood lust created by Jack the Ripper has left a lasting impression on artists and art in many forms. But what of Jack the Ripper and the physical and psychological manifestations of artistic creativity?
It is said that there is a fine line between genius and madness. This has often been applied to people of an artistic temperament - Vincent Van Gogh was one such person. Most people remember van Gogh as the artist who cut off his ear, but little is known about the reason why.
Like many artists, van Gogh was obsessed with death and the naked female form. He had given his severed ear to a prostitute called Rachel. In a letter to his brother Theo he said '...I tell you frankly in my opinion one must not hesitate to go to a prostitute occasionally if there is one you can trust and feet something for, but / feel something human in them which prevents me from feeling the slightest scruple about associating with them.' However, in June 1888, several months before cutting off his ear, he had said 'the whore is like meat in a butcher's shop.'
In Stranger on the Earth, his psychological biography of van Gogh, author Albert Lubin suggests astonishing motive for the ear severing:
'Another event may have also influenced Vincent's behaviour. Between the end of August and the ear incident in December, Jack the Ripper had mutilated a series of prostitutes in London's East End. He typically cut the throats of his victims and moved various organs, including parts of their ears. These crimes gave rise to emulators, and Vincent may have been one of them. As a masochist, instead of a sadist, however, it is conceivable that he would reverse Jack's act by mutilating himself and bring the ear to a prostitute.'
Like all artists, van Gogh, in finding sources or artistic inspiration, was stimulated by reports of these atrocities.
' "At times driven by certain mental voracity, I even read the newspapers with fury... " ' Lubin continues: "Vincent himself referred to an article (about Jack the Ripper) in an unnamed Marseilles paper. Accordingly, a search in the Archive Departmentale of the Bouche-du-Rhone disclosed fifteen articles on Jack the Ripper in 'Le Petit Marseillais', a daily with a wide circulation in Arles in 1888. The first appeared on September 8th and the last on December 22nd, the day before the ear mutilation. Of particular interest, the article of October 2nd quoted a letter from the assassin announcing that 'in his next crime he would cut off the ears of his victim and this was in fact done on one of the bodies found yesterday".
Again, ten days before the self-mutilation another assassination was reported from London, presumably committed by one of Jack's emulators, in which a woman's carotid artery was sliced off with so much violence 'that a piece of the right ear was removed'. Reading these stories (van Gogh) may have acted like the contemporary events that characteristically contribute to the content of dreams'.
So was Jack responsible for van Gogh's self-mutilation and further artistic subject matter?
His painting entitled 'The Corpse' bears an uncanny resemblance to the layout of the Mary Kelly picture, and, interestingly, an earlier van Gogh work called 'The Fisherman's Wife' may well have been the print often referred to as 'The Fisherman's Widow' - one of the only forms of decoration found in Kelly's drab room.