Centenary Stories from the Archives
Posted by Claire Jackson Ben Uri archivist / Posted 12th August 2014
In 1906 The Whitechapel Art Gallery had a show of Jewish Art and Antiquities, 21 years later, in 1927, they had another exhibition on the same theme. This was a chance for Ben Uri to bring their collection to a wide audience at last.
Ben Uri Council June 1926
The Chairman, Mr Michaelson opened the meeting by saying that:
the spirit of the society has been greatly shattered during the past months and therefore it is essential to carry on its work in a more vigorous manner than that of before.
Edward Good, another Committee member, said that he felt that they had been remiss in not illuminating the various questions and problems of our modern Jewish life. Ben Uri must be a ‘centre for all types of Jewish creative efforts and also be a home for social and spiritual repose’.
Membership should include admission to lectures and social events. A musical and literary evening was organised and plans were made to invite the noted Yiddish poet Sholem Asch to speak during his forthcoming visit. One of the very few documents for 1927 shows that without a Gallery, the Society could just about afford to run lectures and dances and still purchase pictures without making a loss.
Accounts 1927 Ben Uri Archives
How were they going to get the collection, languishing at the home of their secretary, to public notice?
A Letter to Cameo Corner (1927)
Edward Good, (also known as Moshe Oved, a Yiddish poet, writer and sculptor), owned a shop selling jewellery in Bloomsbury. The shop, Cameo Corner, was very well known, and even patronised by Queen Mary who apparently would sit and chat with Good, who had a propensity to spend hours talking whilst his customers were waiting to be served.
Good received a letter from J. Nightingale Duddington, secretary of the Whitechapel Art Gallery asking for to borrow a sculpture of Good by Jacob Epstein. Duddington was putting on an exhibition on Jewish Art and Antiquities, a follow up to a 1906 show of the same name. Good suggested a number of collections including the Ben Uri which he felt had material also suitable for the exhibition.
Letter from Good to Duddington, 1927
Ben Uri sent 19 pictures including works by David Bomberg, Jacob Kramer, Solomon J Solomon, Simeon Solomon, Henryk Glicenstein and Isaac Lichtenstein.
Head of a Yeminite Woman by Isaac Lichtenstein 1921
This picture was listed in the Whitechapel Exhibition catalogue as A Woman With A Pitcher. Only a few months prior to this, in 1926, Lichtenstein had contacted the Ben Uri asking for help getting a visa to come to England.
The Whitechapel Jewish Art and Antiquities exhibition was a huge success and not only reviewed by the London and specialist art press but also by The Scotsman and provincial papers. The Daily Telegraph commented ‘from the artistic and antiquarian points of view, it was doubly interesting not only to jews but members of all communities’. The Jewish Chronicle was particularly admiring of the Epstein sculpture of Edward Good saying it compelled attention and admiration. The only dissenting voices were some local school children who declared that the only ‘pictures’ they wanted to see were at the cinema!