Isaac Rosenberg

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Isaac Rosenberg

by Isaac Rosenberg
oil on panel, 1915
11 5/8 in. x 8 3/4 in. (295 mm x 222 mm)
Given by the sitter's sister, Annie Wynick (née Rosenberg), 1959
This portrait has been adopted thanks to a generous donation from the Robert Gavron Charitable Trust in memory of Bob Gavron and Charles Corman
Primary Collection
NPG 4129

On display in Room 25 on Floor 2 at the National Portrait Gallery

Sitterback to top

  • Isaac Rosenberg (1890-1918), Painter and poet. Sitter in 2 portraits, Artist or producer of 1 portrait.

Artistback to top

  • Isaac Rosenberg (1890-1918), Painter and poet. Artist or producer of 1 portrait, Sitter in 2 portraits.

This portraitback to top

Painted in the year Rosenberg enlisted. Despite being a pacifist, he believed ‘we must all fight to get the trouble over.’

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Smartify image discovery app
  • Cooper, John, Visitor's Guide, 2000, p. 92
  • Crane, David; Judd, Alan, First World War Poets, 2014, p. 77
  • John Cooper, National Portrait Gallery Visitor's Guide, 2006, p. 92 Read entry

    Private Rosenberg was not much of a soldier, but the acquisition of this portrait by the Gallery, with the support of Edith Sitwell, F. R. Leavis and T. S. Eliot, attests to his stature as a poet. It is a tough image of an awkward, self-absorbed man; it has a calm and concentrated poise, what Siegfried Sassoon called a ‘controlled directness’.

  • Judd, Alan; Crane, David, Character Sketches: First World War Poets, 1997, p. 44
  • Moorhouse, Paul; Faulks, Sebastian (essay), The Great War in Portraits, 2014 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 27 February - 15 June 2014), p. 151 Read entry

    Painter and poet Isaac Rosenberg studied at the Slade School of Fine Art. From 1912 he engaged incresingly with a more Modernist style of painting, moving away from his earlier, naturalistic manner. In 1914, he exhibited in the Whitechapel Gallery's survey exhibition of twentieth-century art. This self-portrait of 1915 was painted the year he enlisted in the army. He was sent to France with the King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment in June 1916. There he wrote 'Dead Man's Dump' and other poems that secured his reputation as a poet. He was killed, at the age of twenty-eight, on the Western Front on 1 April 1918.

  • Rab MacGibbon, National Portrait Gallery: The Collection, p. 78
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 532
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 191 Read entry

    The artist and poet Isaac Rosenberg responded to the outbreak of war in 1914 with his poem ‘On Receiving the News of the War’, which was written in South Africa. Having studied painting at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, he had moved to Cape Town as an attempted cure for chronic bronchitis. He returned to England in October 1915, shortly before enlisting in the army.

    He painted this self-portrait around that time. Rosenberg shows himself wearing a trilby hat, then fashionable among artists. Being shorter than the minimum height of 5ft 3in, he was assigned to the 12th Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment, a so-called bantam battalion. Declining the invitation to become a lance corporal, he was given the rank of private and later transferred to a different bantam battalion, the 11th (Service) Battalion of the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment. In June 1916 he was posted to the Western Front and, while serving in the trenches, he wrote the poems that have assured his reputation, notably ‘Break of Day in the Trenches’ and ‘Dead Man’s Dump’. He was killed on 1 April 1918, at dawn, while returning from a night patrol.

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1915back to top

Current affairs

The Times Newspaper reports that Britain's Army is suffering from a lack of Ammunition Shells, pointing the finger of blame at the Liberal government. The Shell Scandal forced Asquith to form a new coalition government, bringing Conservatives into the cabinet and demonstrating the need to gear the whole country's economy towards the war effort.

Art and science

As the threat from aerial attack increased, the decision was made to protect the national art collections by storing them in basements or in locations outside London. On 15th October the National Portrait Gallery under the directorship of Sir Charles John Holmes closed its doors to the public and removed paintings from the walls.


Stalemate ensues on the Western Front and trench warfare begins as both sides take up defensive positions. While offensive strategies become futile, serious loss of life occurs with the first deployment of tanks and the use of poison gas.
Albert Einstein publishes his General Theory of Relativity, a model of gravitation and cosmology.

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