Portraits by a killer? Writer donates art by 'Jack the Ripper'

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The Independent US

Patricia Cornwell, the crime writer who famously claimed to have discovered the identity of Jack the Ripper, has donated to a US art gallery more than 80 works produced by the artist she believes was the notorious serial killer.

Cornwell decided to donate the works by Walter Sickert after putting together the collection during research for her 2002 book, Portrait of a Killer. The book named Sickert as the man who murdered a series of prostitutes in London's East End in the 1880s. The collection of 82 works will be given to Harvard University's Fogg Art Museum, in Cornwell's home city of Boston.

Daron Manoogian, a museum spokesman, said yesterday: "I think she wanted them to be available for other people to research and so [by] keeping them here and making them accessible to the laboratories here, she is hoping that other people might want to study them as well."

Cornwell, the author of a best-selling series of forensic science and crime novels featuring the fictional character Dr Kay Scarpetta, collected the works by the impressionist during research to support her claim that he was the Ripper. Her book stirred controversy among both "Ripperologists" and experts on Sickert, but a year ago Cornwell took out a full-page advertisement in The Independent challenging anyone who doubted her claims to prove her wrong.

She said that her own investigation into the murders was far from complete, and added: "With this in mind, I challenge my critics to back their refutations and attacks on my findings with scientific, investigative and historical fact. If it turns out that something indisputably proved that this notorious killer was someone other than Walter Richard Sickert, I would be the first to offer my congratulations and retract my accusations."

Cornwell seized on the idea that Sickert was the man responsible for the deaths of at least five women in London's East End in 1888. The artist, who died in 1940, would have been 28 at the time of the killings.

Though she was not the first author to link Sickert to the crimes, she began assembling his paintings and other artifacts to obtain a DNA sample that she matched with a sample from a letter believed to have been written by the Ripper. While not conclusive, she said it could not be ruled out.

Cornwell turned to staff at the Fogg Art Museum's Strauss Centre for Conservation to help her with her research into Sickert. One official travelled with her to London last year to view letters purportedly written by the Ripper and held by the National Archives at Kew, west London.

The author, who is working on a follow-up her to 2002 book based on new material, told The Art Newspaper: "I wished the public to have access to them, and I wanted it to be a gallery where scientific examination of the Sickerts can continue."

The works - comprising 24 paintings, 22 drawings and 36 prints - are currently on loan to the museum and officially listed as "promised gifts". Mr Manoogian added: "There is no time-line as to when they will be transferred."

The donation represents one of the world's biggest collections of Sickert's works. Cornwell has denied claims that she damaged at least one of the works in her effort to recover a DNA sample.