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Isaac Rosenberg

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Isaac Rosenberg

by London Art Studios
bromide print mounted on a postcard, circa 1915
5 in. x 3 in. (128 mm x 78 mm)
Purchased, 1983
Primary Collection
NPG P230

Sitterback to top

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

Artistback to top

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Crane, David; Judd, Alan, First World War Poets, 2014, p. 4
  • Judd, Alan; Crane, David, Character Sketches: First World War Poets, 1997, p. 4
  • 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. 123 Read entry

    Poet and painter, killed in action April 1918. Isaac Rosenberg (1890-1918) was born in Bristol. His father, Barnett Rosenberg, was Lithuanian and had emigrated from Moscow to avoid conscription into the Russian army. In 1911 Isaac attended the Slade School of Fine Art while continuing to write poetry. There his fellow students included the painters Mark Gertler, David Bomberg, C.R.W. Nevinson and Stanley Spencer. Having enlisted in the army in 1915, he was assigned to the Bantam Battalion. Some of Rosenberg's best poems were written while serving on the Western Front. These include 'Break of Day in the Trenches' and 'Dead Man's Dump' (posthumously published 1922). He was killed while on night patrol.

  • Rogers, Malcolm, Camera Portraits, 1989 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 20 October 1989 - 21 January 1990), p. 183 Read entry

    The son of Jewish Russian émigrés, Isaac Rosenberg grew up in Whitechapel, London, where his father worked as a pedlar and market-trader. Early on he learned to paint and began to write poetry, and in 1911 another Jewish family paid for him to go to the Slade School of Art, where he was a contemporary of Mark Gertler. A year later he published at his own expense Night and Day, a collection of his poems, and as a result received encouragement from the poets Ezra Pound and Gordon Bottomley. Another volume, Youth, appeared in 1915. That year, in opposition to his parents' pacifist views, he enlisted in the army, and was killed in action in 1918. As both poet and painter he was a figure of striking originality. His poems written in the trenches are experimental in character, starkly realistic and coloured by his urban Jewish background. A painted self-portrait, richly coloured and emotionally charged, belongs to the Gallery. As a poet he was slow to gain recognition, and it was not until the publication of the Collected Works (1937) that his importance was generally accepted.

    This photographic postcard is of a type that many a soldier would have had made while on leave to give to his family and friends, and is a notably unidealized image of the young Private and poet who hated Rupert Brooke's 'begloried sonnets’.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 532

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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