Oscar Nemon

Sir John Rothenstein

1960, cast 1982

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Not on display

Oscar Nemon 1906–1985
Object: 327 × 260 × 308 mm
Presented by Lord Charteris of Amisfield in memory of the Hon. Sir Evan Charteris 1981

Catalogue entry


Not inscribed, stamped with foundry mark ‘MORRIS SINGER’ bottom left on edge of base
Bronze, 12 7/8 × 10 1/4 × 12 1/8 (32.7 × 26 × 30.8)
Presented by Lord Charteris of Amisfield in Memory of the Hon. Sir Evan Charteris 1982
Exh: Oscar Nemon, Sculptures of Our Time, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, April–May 1982 (listed on duplicated sheet inserted in catalogue, original clay repr., n.p.)
Lit: Sir John Rothenstein, ‘Oscar Nemon - An Appreciation’, catalogue introduction to Oscar Nemon, Sculptures of Our Time (op.cit., n.p.)

A bronze portrait head of Sir John Rothenstein, CBE, Director of the Tate Gallery from 1938 to 1964.

Sir John Rothenstein became acquainted with the work of Oscar Nemon during the last war, when Nemon, a refugee from Nazi-occupied Europe, was living in Oxford. In a letter to the compiler (29 November 1982) the artist wrote ‘The [first] recollection I have of Sir John was when I came to Oxford in 1941 and some of my works were exhibited in one of the colleges... He left me a note welcoming me and wishing me success in the future’. Sir John also recalled the episode, writing in his catalogue introduction to Nemon's recent retrospective exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum (op.cit.) ‘... he (Nemon) had a small exhibition at Regents Park College where I first saw his work with my uncle who was, at that time, Ruskin Master of Drawing. On leaving, I left my card with a note expressing the wish that he would have a great future as an artist in this country.’

Nemon started work on this portrait head in 1960. The sculpture was modelled from life and sittings took place intermittently in the evenings at the studio he then occupied in Pimlico, where Sir John would call in on his way home to Chelsea from working at the Tate. As so many years have elapsed since the completion of the work, Nemon does not have any special recollections about the sittings but a contemporary photograph, reproduced in his 1982 Oxford catalogue (op.cit.) shows sculptor and sitter in the studio; where Nemon is seen at work on the original clay model for the head.

Oscar Nemon has confirmed that the Tate's head, cast at the Morris Singer Foundry, Basingstoke in 1982, is the only bronze version of the work. However, three earlier casts exist: an original plaster which has been retained by the artist and which was included in his retrospective exhibition at the Ashmolean (although the catalogue listed the material as bronze), a resin bronze cast which is in Sir John Rothenstein's collection and finally, a terracotta version. This belongs to the University of St Andrews, where Sir John Rothenstein was Rector (1964–7) and has now been placed on display in St Andrews' Parliament Hall.

On 20 September 1982 the bronze was formally presented to the Chairman of the Tate Gallery Trustees, Lord Hutchinson, by Lord Charteris of Amisfield, in the presence of the artist, Sir John Rothenstein and Alan Bowness, the Director of the Tate. Lord Charteris made the presentation in memory of his great-uncle, the Hon. Sir Evan Charteris, himself Chairman of the Tate Trustees from 1934 to 1940.

The Tate's collection includes portraits of its four former Directors, and Sir John Rothenstein is now represented three times. Apart from this sculpture, there are two paintings of him by his father, Sir William Rothenstein, ‘The Princess Badroulbadour’ of 1908 where he is seen as a child with his sisters, and a portrait painted in 1938, shortly after he was appointed Director of the Gallery.

Unless otherwise stated, this entry is based on information supplied by the artist (letter of 29 November 1982 and in a conversation with the compiler). The compiler is grateful to Oscar Nemon and to Sir John Rothenstein who have checked and approved its contents.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1980-82: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1984

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