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In the Frame for September 2011: R. Kimberley’s ‘The Strangler’

With a degree of trepidation, the Archivist has chosen R. Kimberley’s The Strangler (1944) to feature as this month’s In the Frame picture. He writes:

Let me be clear from the outset: this is very far from being my favourite painting. Its casual association of sexual objectification and lethal violence renders it disturbing, and its pop-art accessibility renders it actually horrifying. The more mundane elements of the picture (the book, the envelope, the tranquil cottage setting) are unexplained, and do nothing to dilute its horror – if anything, they intensify it.

Yet, in presenting a truth about contemporary culture which we would rather not talk about, perhaps the painting is doing us a service, even as we recoil from its voyeuristic invitation. The (presumably male – yet, in the absence of definite information, on what basis do we presume?) artist wrote that it had been painted ‘in a fit of severe depression’ and reflects ‘a disregard for the feminine sex’, a ‘distaste for authority and power over my actions and emotions’, a ‘dislike of being told what to do’ and a ‘desire for latitude’.

If the work is a vision of what lies beneath the veneer of civilization, it is a profoundly frightening – and depressing – one, and calls our attention to what should have been obvious all along: that misogyny (loathing of women) always proceeds from, and collapses back into, misanthropy (loathing of humankind).