Catalogue entry

Jacob Kramer 1892 - 1962

T03964 George Parker 1928

Oil on canvas 764 x 637 (30 1/4 x 25 1/8)
Not inscribed
Presented by Mr. John Parker 1985
Prov: Mr. John Parker 1970, by descent from his father George Parker
Lit: Millie Kramer, Jacob Kramer: A Memorial Volume, 1969, p.29, pl.34

In 1967 the sitter wrote his memories of his first meeting with the painter Jacob Kramer, at the request of Millie Kramer, the artist's sister, who was compiling A Memorial Volume:

The first time I met Jacob Kramer was on the 11th December 1921. That evening I had an engagement to give a recital of songs at Collingham Bridge [West Yorkshire] for Kester, the cartoonist of the Yorkshire Evening Post. He had made an appointment for me to meet and travel to Collingham that afternoon with Jacob. When I first saw Jacob, I was very much impressed with his well dressed appearance and his dignified looks .... That same day he asked me if I would sit for him the following evening at his studio in Mount Preston [Leeds]. I well remember going there. Jacob was a very long time getting me into the position he wanted with regard to the light which was from an incandescant gas mantle. At one or more points, he asked me to sing some of the songs I had sung the previous night. The picture, which was in pastel, was a remarkable piece of work [collection of the sitter's family]. After that we became great friends.


George Parker (1882-1970) was one of England's leading baritones during the first half of the twentieth century. Parker, like Kramer, was born in Leeds. As a boy he was principal soprano in the choir of Leeds Parish Church from 1893 to 1898. He became a lay vicar at that church, which paid for him to study to become a colliery manager. While holding down the job of manager at Silstone Fall Colliery, Yorkshire, Parker was also taking singing lessons and performing locally in oratorio and concert work. He was persuaded to leave the coal mining industry and take full time employment in one of the Cathedral choirs of England. After a spell singing with Eton College choir in 1910, he joined Manchester Cathedral choir in 1911, Westminster Abbey choir in 1912, and became a Gentleman of His Majesty's Chapels Royal in 1916. He took the part of Omar in the musical ‘Chu Chin Chow' at Her Majesty's Theatre, London, from May 1918 to August 1921, and because the part of Omar only lasted seven minutes on stage, Parker was able to fulfil other more serious musical engagements in London during the run, even to the extent one night of singing the role of Alberich in ‘Das Rheingold' under the baton of Henry Wood at a Promenade concert in the Queens Hall before rushing to Her Majesty's Theatre to make up and perform Omar. George Parker married Dorothy Crossland in Clifton Church, York on 24 November 1920, but they could not take their honeymoon until the run of ‘Chu Chin Chow' ended in August 1921. By the date of his marriage George Parker had bought a house at Hatch End, Middlesex, which remained his home until 1933, when he moved to Hitchin, Hertfordshire. Thus, when George Parker first met Jacob Kramer in December 1921, he lived in Middlesex and was gaining fame as a soloist specialising in German Lieder and all the baritone parts of the great oratorio works.

Kramer, too, no longer lived in Leeds, having moved to Kentish Town, London in 1920, but he kept on a studio in Leeds, which is where he executed the first portrait of George Parker. Besides this pastel portrait, the artist sketched and painted Parker on other occasions, the most substantial work of the group being T03964. Kramer also painted a portrait of Dorothy, George Parker's wife, (see the entry for T03965), and produced pastel sketches of their three children, John, Simon and Alison (collection of the sitter's family). Kramer executed a particularly free and vivid pen and wash profile sketch of George Parker shortly after the 1921 pastel portrait, and Parker thereafter used a reproduction of the sketch on the cover of his song recital programmes.

T03964 was painted in August 1928 in a rented holiday cottage in Cornwall. George Parker recalled again in his 1967 memoir of Kramer: ‘In August 1928, whilst holidaying with friends in St. Anthony in Roseland, Cornwall, Jacob arranged to stay with us, and whilst there he was most happy and very good company. There he painted portraits, in oils, of my wife [see T03965] and one of myself.' In conversations on 5 January 1987 and 13 January 1988 George Parker's son, John, told the compiler further details about the Cornish holiday during which Kramer painted T03964 and T03965. George Parker knew of a rentable cottage called Elwynick, at St. Anthony in Roseland near Portscatho, through his friendship with Evelyn and Maisie Radford, two wealthy spinster sisters who supported the arts in Cornwall and who were the prime movers behind the Falmouth Operatic Society. Parker commissioned both the portrait of himself and that of his wife from Kramer and presumably set up the arrangements for Kramer to come and paint them in Cornwall. Parker was a great admirer of Kramer's work, but appears to have had mixed feelings initially when he saw both the commissioned portraits of himself and his wife. In his 1967 memoir, he wrote:

I was not allowed to see the one of my wife until it was quite finished, and at first sight of it I was greatly disappointed. Since then, I have never ceased to rejoice that Jacob painted this picture and each year it has become evident to me what a wonderful picture it is. The picture of me is much larger than life-size.


Both portraits remained with George Parker until his death, but only the portrait of Dorothy Parker was loaned to exhibitions. By 1928, the year in which Kramer painted T03964 and T03965, the artist was well known for his portrait painting. As early as 1922 Kramer gave a lecture in Leeds entitled ‘Some Views on Portrait Painting' which was summarised in an article published in the Yorkshire Post on 3 March 1922 (reprinted in J.D. Roberts, (ed.), The Kramer Documents, Valencia 1983, pp.83-4):

Portrait painting is one of the highest forms of art, he [Kramer] said, and, in his opinion, being next in value to purely creative art, it comes in the realm of psychology. At the same time, there should be in real portraiture something creative. To get the highest results it was necessary not only to see a person, but also to get the inner or spiritual side of the man. To the artist the painting of a portrait should be a profound problem. The expression of the inner values was the root of portraiture, and one might term it symbolism in art. To him all art - even portraiture - was symbolism. The portrait painter, therefore, was often in conflict with his subject. The popular painter nowadays was too commercial, and this was reflected in his work. He thought he was right in saying that photography was still the popular ideal, and the more photographic a portrait, the more popular its appeal. People looked for a likeness and nothing more; they saw only a mask, and not the actual individual. Public consciousness of inner life was very rare. The greatest difficulty the portrait painter had to face was the feeling, by searching out, this true individual. The artist depended upon tonalities - gradations of colour - and all was expressed in tones by which he placed his object upon canvas. To be paradoxical, what was missing might be of more value than what appeared on the canvas. The academic portrait might express almost perfectly the outer man, but the artist who concentrated on technical qualities frequently missed the higher values of character. The artist must feel as well as see. A complete portrait, like a piece of great sculpture, should be a monument of the man's life, strongly moulded and conceived. Each element in his nature should be produced even by the subordination of natural forms. Very few modern portrait painters impressed by their sincerity, though many pleased by their dexterity.


T03964 fulfils very well the requirements Kramer laid down for a good portrait; it is strongly moulded and conveived, and much incidental detail has been subordinated in the pursuit of a powerful and psychological statement. Kramer was reported in the Yorkshire Post review as distinguishing between portraiture and ‘purely creative art' as two ways of working as an artist, and this is a good description of his own practice. His financial situation as an artist was precarious and, unlike his imaginative figure compositions, for example ‘The Day of Atonement' (Leeds City Art Gallery, repr. Jacob Kramer Reassessed, exh. cat., Ben Uri Art Gallery, 1984, pp.22-3 in col.), portraiture was an important source of income. He produced portraits of Leeds business men and their wives, people he did not know well, along with those, like T03964, of whom the sitter was a valued friend. Portraits of the latter kind included Sam Nagley, painted in 1922, (repr. Ben Uri Art Gallery 1984, p.12), Israel Zangwill in 1925, Jacob Epstein, Herbert Read and J.B. Priestley, all in 1930, Gracie Fields in 1931 and Frederick Delius in 1932. All the sitters of these portraits have either a musical or a Yorkshire connection and George Parker had both.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.200-2