Exhibition: Rothenstein’s Relevance

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The exhibition ‘Rothenstein’s Relevance: Sir William Rothenstein and his Circle’ will open at the Ben Uri Gallery on Boundary Road in London on September 11th. It will be Ben Uri’s first exhibition on this hugely influential figure and is a partial tour of the Bradford exhibition, From Bradford to Benares: the art of Sir William Rothenstein (Cartwright Hall Gallery, 7 March – 12 July 2015), reconfigured for its London showing.

The exhibition comprises approximately 40 works including paintings, works on paper and archival material and aims to re-examine the significance, influence and continuing importance of Rothenstein’s artistic achievements. The exhibition will examine major themes from Rothenstein’s career including Jewish subjects, portraiture and figure studies (in Paris, London and Gloucestershire) and the First and Second World Wars. These will be contextualised by work on similar themes by a number of mostly younger contemporaries including Barnett Freedman, Mark Gertler, Eric Kennington, Jacob Kramer, Albert Rutherston and Alfred Wolmark, who were all either influenced directly by, or worked alongside, Rothenstein.

The majority of works will come from Bradford’s own collection, together with selected loans from the Arts Council, Gallery Oldham, Leeds City Art Gallery, Manchester City Art Gallery, Museums Sheffield and Tate Britain, as well as works from Ben Uri’s own collection and a number of private collection.

Highlights of the exhibition include Rothenstein’s Coster Girls, c. 1894 (Sheffield), which invited the comment when shown in 1894 at the New English Art Club that “Many are the painters more agreeable than Mr. Rothenstein; but it is scarcely possible to be more clever than he”. The ‘Coster’ theme, to date little examined, is a subject embraced by many British artists c.1880–1920 including Walter Sickert, Augustus John, William Orpen, Ambrose McEvoy, John Lavery, Mark Gertler and Eric Kennington, and it will be flanked by two later interpretations of this motif: Rothenstein’s younger brother, Albert Rutherston’s Coster Girl (1907, Arts Council) and Gertler’s The Coster Woman (1923,
Private Collection) allowing us to explore this work in a broader context.

Rothenstein’s Jews Mourning in a Synagogue, 1906 (Tate), one of his most celebrated depictions of Jewish ritual, will also be included. When first shown at the New English Art club in summer 1906, it was hailed as “far and away the most impressive and most important” of his Jewish paintings; included within the 1906 Jewish Art exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, it was subsequently presented to Tate by Jacob Moser in commemoration of this show. This opens the exploration of Rothenstein’s work on Jewish themes, as well as examining his relationships with and influence upon other contemporary Jewish artists. It will be paired with Kramer’s stark modernist interpretation of Jewish ritual, The Day of Atonement (1919, Leeds) – the preparatory drawing for which, from Ben Uri’s own collection, will be shown concurrently in the centenary exhibition, Out of Chaos, at Somerset House). Similarly, Rothenstein’s Reading from the Book of Esther (1907, Manchester), which directly inspired Gertler’s Talmudic Discussion (1911, private collection), will be shown together for the first time. Alfred Wolmark’s In the Synagogue (1906, Ben Uri Collection) will also be shown alongside in support of his later claim that the two artists had worked together in the East End on Jewish themes.

Rothenstein’s role as an Official War Artist in both the First and Second World wars will also be examined with works by his younger contemporaries Eric Kennington and Barnett Freedman.

Rothenstein’s Relevance will run alongside Ben Uri’s centenary exhibition Out of Chaos at the Inigo Rooms, Somerset House East Wing (02 July – 13 December 2015).

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