Catalogue entry

Victor Pasmore 1908-1998

Portrait of a Jewish Woman 1943-6


Oil on canvas 508 x 406 (20 x 16)

Inscribed in red oil paint ‘VP’ b.r
Inscribed on back of stretcher ‘VP’, over earlier inscription ‘Victor Pasmore | The Breakfast Table | 15 gns.’

Purchased from the executors of Odo Cross (Grant-in-Aid) 1963

Purchased from the Redfern Gallery, London Jan. 1946 by Angus Wilson by whom bequeathed to Odo Cross 1961

Portraits for Collectors by Living Artists, Leicester Galleries, London, Nov. 1943 (8, as The Jewish Model)
Victor Pasmore: Retrospective Exhibition 1925-65, Tate Gallery, London, May-June 1965 (47 as The Jewish Model)
Victor Pasmore, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Conn., Nov. 1988-Jan. 1989, The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C., Feb.-April 1989 (8, repr. p.30)
Summer Exhibition, Pallant House, Chichester, June-Aug. 1995 (no number)

Michael Rothenstein, Looking at Paintings, London 1947, pp.26-7, repr. (col.)
Alan Gwynne-Jones, Portrait Painters, London 1950, p.38, pl.151
Tate Gallery Report 1963-4, London 1964, p.39
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, Tate Gallery: The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, II, London 1965, p.513
Richard Morphet, British Painting 1910-45, 1967, p.17, pl.27
Alan Bowness and Luigi Lambertini, Victor Pasmore, with a Catalogue Raisonée of the Paintings, Constructions and Graphics 1926-1979, London 1980, p.292, no.88, repr. p.51 (col.)
Bruce Laughton, The Euston Road School: A Study in Objective Painting, Aldershot 1986, p.283, repr. p.282

Richard Shone, The Century of Change: British Painting Since 1900, London 1977, pl.118

Portrait of a Jewish Woman, formerly known as The Jewish Model, was painted at Camberwell School of Art, where Pasmore taught from November 1942 to 1949. Michael Rothenstein, who most probably received his information directly from the artist, wrote that Pasmore painted this work ‘at intervals over a period of eighteen months. The picture was completed from memory, a model having been used for roughly half the total number of work-periods’.[1] However, in 1963 the artist told the Tate Gallery that the work was ‘a complete invention imposed on an unfinished painting done direct from the model’.[2] He added that the final image was ‘painted between 1944 and 1946’; presumably this was the eighteen month working period referred to by Rothenstein. Despite Pasmore’s description of the painting’s original state as ‘unfinished’, it was exhibited at the Leicester Galleries in 1943 prior to reworking. That the final image, though described by the artist as ‘a complete invention’, was based upon this first state might be deduced from its likeness to an earlier portrait of the same model, Portrait of a Woman in a Red Hat, 1944 (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford).[3] X-Ray examination does not reveal an underlying image, suggesting only superficial reworking, restricted perhaps to the creamy paint layer of the woman’s face and details of her dress and corsage. The artist told the compiler on 27 February 1996 that the model was a regular sitter at Camberwell. Rothenstein said Portrait of a Jewish Woman was one of three portraits of the same subject, but in 1963 Pasmore could only recall the two. It was the altered status of the work’s second state that, in 1979, prompted Pasmore to change the title from The Jewish Model to the less specific Portrait of a Jewish Woman.[4]

The paint of Portrait of a Jewish Woman was applied relatively thickly onto a commercially white-primed, linen canvas. No underdrawing is visible but dark underpainting is evident, especially in the area of the model’s hat and the background at top left. This and the quality of the paint - particularly thick on the face, which has been lightened, and the flowers, which were painted later - is consistent with the heavy reworking of the subject over a prolonged period of time. The richly painted manner and strong characterisation of Portrait of a Jewish Woman may be seen in a number of Pasmore’s works of the period, including Head of a Man, 1940-6 (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne).[5]

The inscription on the back, combined with the lack of an underlying image, indicates that the stretcher was reused. The inclusion of a price would suggest that The Breakfast Table was exhibited, but it has not been traced in any catalogues.

Portrait of a Jewish Woman was on extended loan to Southampton City Art Gallery from 1951 to 1961.

Chris Stephens
Feb. 1998

[1] Michael Rothenstein, Looking at Paintings, London 1947, p.27
[2] Letter to Tate Gallery, 15 Aug. 1963, Tate Gallery cataloguing files
[3] Repr. Alan Bowness and Luigi Lambertini, Victor Pasmore, with a Catalogue Raisonée of the Paintings, Constructions and Graphics 1926-1979, London 1980, p.290, no.70
[4] Pasmore, conversation with Tate Gallery conservator, 1979
[5] Repr. Bowness and Lambertini 1980, p.291, no.91