Should Myra Hindley hang? Most Britons would probably answer yes to the woman and no to the painting. The painting in question is by Marcus Harvey, who has used a child-sized cast of a hand to print on a giant, sinisterly mesmerizing canvas the black, white, and grey pixel marks of the instantly familiar police mugshot of Britain’s most notorious child murderer. Myra, four meters high and almost as wide, has become a talking point of “Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection”—the blockbuster show, at London’s Royal Academy of Arts through December 28, that was always destined to live up to its name in tabloid terms.

The Moors Murders took place in Yorkshire in the early 1960s. The victims—all children—were slowly tortured (their death throes recorded on a tape machine) and then buried in the moors by Hindley and her associate, Ian Brady. Most of the bodies were never...

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