"Jack the Ripper" is the best-known name given to an unidentified serial killer who was active in the largely impoverished areas in and around the Whitechapel district of London in 1888. The name originated in a letter, written by someone claiming to be the murderer, that was disseminated in the media. The letter is widely believed to have been a hoax, and may have been written by a journalist in a deliberate attempt to heighten interest in the story. Other nicknames used for the killer at the time were "The Whitechapel Murderer" and "Leather Apron".
Attacks ascribed to the Ripper typically involved female prostitutes from the slums whose throats were cut prior to abdominal mutilations. The removal of internal organs from at least three of the victims led to proposals that their killer possessed anatomical or surgical knowledge. Rumours that the murders were connected intensified in September and October 1888, and letters from a writer or writers purporting to be the murderer were received by media outlets and Scotland Yard. The "From Hell" letter, received by George Lusk of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, included half of a preserved human kidney, supposedly from one of the victims. Mainly because of the extraordinarily brutal character of the murders, and because of media treatment of the events, the public came increasingly to believe in a single serial killer known as "Jack the Ripper".
Extensive newspaper coverage bestowed widespread and enduring international notoriety on the Ripper. An investigation into a series of brutal killings in Whitechapel up to 1891 was unable to connect all the killings conclusively to the murders of 1888, but the legend of Jack the Ripper solidified. As the murders were never solved, the legends surrounding them became a combination of genuine historical research, folklore, and pseudohistory. The term "ripperology" was coined to describe the study and analysis of the Ripper cases. There are now over one hundred theories about the Ripper's identity, and the murders have inspired multiple works of fiction.
John Atkinson Grimshaw was born 6 September 1836 in Leeds. In 1856 he married his cousin Frances Hubbard (1835–1917). In 1861, at the age of 24, to the dismay of his parents, he left his job as a clerk for the Great Northern Railway to become a painter. He first exhibited in 1862, mostly paintings of birds, fruit and blossom, under the patronage of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society.
Grimshaw's primary influence was the Pre-Raphaelites. True to the Pre-Raphaelite style, he created landscapes of accurate colour, lighting, and vivid detail. He painted landscapes that typified seasons or a type of weather; city and suburban street scenes and moonlit views of the docks in London, Leeds, Liverpool, and Glasgow also figured largely in his art. His careful painting and skill in lighting effects meant that he captured both the appearance and the mood of a scene in minute detail. His "paintings of dampened gas-lit streets and misty waterfronts conveyed an eerie warmth as well as alienation in the urban scene."
Dulce Domum (1855), on whose reverse Grimshaw wrote, "mostly painted under great difficulties," captures the music portrayed in the piano-player, entices the eye to meander through the richly decorated room, and to consider the still and silent young lady who is listening. Grimshaw painted more interior scenes, especially in the 1870s, when he worked under the influence of James Tissot and the Aesthetic Movement.
On Hampstead Hill is considered one of Grimshaw's finest works, exemplifying his skill with a variety of light sources, in capturing the mood of the passing of twilight into night. In his later career his urban scenes under twilight or yellow streetlighting were popular with his middle-class patrons.
His later work included imagined scenes from the Greek and Roman empires, and he painted literary subjects from Longfellow and Tennyson—pictures including Elaine and The Lady of Shalott. (Grimshaw named his children after characters in Tennyson's poems).
In the 1880s, Grimshaw maintained a London studio in Chelsea, not far from the studio of James Abbott McNeill Whistler. After visiting Grimshaw, Whistler remarked that "I considered myself the inventor of Nocturnes until I saw Grimmy's moonlit pictures." Unlike Whistler's Impressionistic night scenes Grimshaw worked in a realistic vein: "sharply focused, almost photographic," his pictures innovated in applying the tradition of rural moonlight images to the Victorian city, recording "the rain and mist, the puddles and smoky fog of late Victorian industrial England with great poetry."
Grimshaw's paintings depicted the contempory world but eschewed the dirty and depressing aspects of industrial towns. Shipping on the Clyde, a depiction of Glasgow's Victorian docks, is a lyrically beautiful evocation of the industrial era. Grimshaw transcribed the fog and mist so accurately as to capture the chill in the damp air, and the moisture penetrating the heavy clothes of the few figures awake in the misty early morning.
Some artists of Grimshaw's period, like Vincent Van Gogh and James Smetham, left letters and documents recording their work and lives. Grimshaw left behind no letters, journals, or papers; scholars and critics have little material on which to base their understanding of his life and career.
Grimshaw died 13 October 1893, and is buried in Woodhouse Hill Cemetery, Hunslet, Leeds. His reputation rested on, and his legacy is based on, his townscapes. There was a revival of interest in Grimshaw's work in the second half of the 20th century, with several important exhibitions devoted to it. A retrospective exhibition "Atkinson Grimshaw – Painter of Moonlight" ran from 16 April 2011 to 4 September 2011 at Mercer Art Gallery in Harrogate and subsequently in the Guildhall Gallery, London.
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