Walter Sickert, the great English painter and long-time denizen of Dieppe, was born 150 years ago today. This picture shows him in Dieppe with Max Beerbohm, the painter William Nicholson and the tall and very beautiful actress Constance Collier (who later became a Hollywood drama coach). Max is clearly smitten... Although Sickert was for a long time living 'in sin' with a statuesque fishwife (by whom he had a son as golden-haired as his own younger self) in the fishermen's quarter, le Pollet, he was also an ornamentof Dieppe society and conscious of his position in it. It was for this reason that, deplorably, he lined up against Oscar Wilde, his old friend, when, on his release from prison, Oscar headed immediately for Dieppe. Another friend of Wilde's (and Sickert's), the painter Jacques Emile Blanche, had decided not to snub Oscar, but unfortunately he was in company with Sickert when the inevitable encounter occurred, near the Cafe Suisse, and the result was that both Wilde's old friends 'cut' him. This attitude was especially cruel on Sickert's part, as he had been much closer to Wilde than Blanche was, and in particular owed him a debt of gratitude for his kindness to his widowed mother. Here's how Simona Pakenham tells it in Sixty Miles From England: The English at Dieppe, 1814-1914:
'Mrs Sickert had been inconsolable, shutting herself away from the world, until Wilde forced himself into her company. She had refused to see him, but he stationed himself in the hall, refusing to go away until she gave in. When at last she admitted him, the two were closeted for an hour, and, after a time, the family were astonished to hear the sound of laughter coming from behind the door. Mrs Sickert recovered from that moment.'
Still, this unkindness of Sickert pales into insignificance when set against the crimes laid at his door by the crime novelist Patricia Cornwwell, who is unshakably convinced that he was in fact Jack the Ripper, and wrote a book to 'prove' her case. Remarkably, Sickert seems to have managed to commit four of the five murders without even leaving Dieppe.