Isaac Rosenberg



Not on display

Isaac Rosenberg 1890–1918
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 495 × 387 mm
Presented by David Burton 1972

Display caption

Although this portrait was painted shortly before Rosenberg entered the Slade School of Art, his confidence as an artist is already apparent. Dressed in a smart overcoat and scarf, he already appears to take his profession seriously. Rosenberg aimed to use this portrait to impress the Jewish Education Aid Society who sponsored Jewish artists to study at the Slade.

Rosenberg continued to paint self-portraits because, as a fellow pupil later wrote, ‘he could not afford models and also he wished to "discover his physical identity".’ 

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

Isaac Rosenberg 1890–1918

T01550 Self-Portrait 1911

Not inscribed.
Canvas,19½x 15¼(49.5 x38.7).
Presented by David Burton1972.
Coll:Mrs Annie Wynick, the artist’s sister; David Burton, the artist’s brother.
Exh: Whitechapel Art Gallery, June-July 1937 (18); Twentieth Century Poetry, Institute of Contemporary Arts, May1951 (M); University of Leeds, May–June1959 (12), dated1910.
Repr: Ed. Gordon Bottomley and D. W. Harding, The Complete Works of Isaac Rosenberg, 1937, frontispiece; Burlington Magazine, CXV,1973,p.35, fig.126.

This self portrait was painted when the artist was twenty-one. The artist’s sister Mrs Ray Lyons told the compiler (letter17 December1973)… ‘the year was1911 painted at our home[159 Oxford Street, Mile End]. I used to watch him looking in a mirror and doing a few dabs on the canvas and so he carried on.—Mrs Lowy (who I think was a sister of Solomon J. Solomon) took a great interest in him and his work… She later suggested he should go to the Slade School of Art.’

According to Joseph Leftwich (letter to the compiler31 March1974) both this self-portrait and the self-portrait in a hat (now at the National Portrait Gallery) were painted in early 1911… ‘They were finished in January1911. Before the Slade. Rosenberg had hoped to have one or both accepted in the Academy, and that this would persuade the Jewish Educational Aid Society that he was serious about being a painter, and that they would send him to the Slade.’

The paintings were never sent to the Academy, partly because Amschwitz suggested changes and partly because in March 1911, while copying a Velasquez at the National Gallery, Rosenberg met Mrs Joseph who with her sister Mrs Lowy and Mrs Herbert Cohen were to finance his studies at the Slade.

Rosenberg joined the Slade School of Art in October1911 where he befriended Mark Gertler and David Bomberg. His portraits executed after 1911 are characterised by freer brushstrokes than inT1550 and unpainted canvas highlights.

Mrs Clare Winston, who attended the Slade at the same time as Isaac Rosenberg recalled his giving two reasons for practising self-portraiture… ‘because he could not afford models and also he wished to “discover his physical identity”.’ (letter to the compiler25 April1974).

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1972–1974, London 1975.


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