George Salting

George Salting, by Joseph Oppenheimer, 1905 -NPG 1790 - © The Joseph & Fanny Oppenheimer Foundation

© The Joseph & Fanny Oppenheimer Foundation

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George Salting

by Joseph Oppenheimer
Pencil and black chalk on laid paper, 1905
12 1/2 in. x 8 1/8 in. (318 mm x 205 mm)
NPG 1790

Inscriptionback to top

Signed, dated and inscr. in black chalk top right-hand corner: ‘To MR. ROSENHEIM / Jos Oppen... / March 9. 05.’
Later pencil inscr. bottom right-hand corner: ‘11½ x 7½’.
On back of sheet two unrelated profile sketches.

This portraitback to top

This sketch of George Salting aged 70 was by a young German artist and relative newcomer to England, Joseph Oppenheimer. [1] He was strangely privileged to obtain a sitting. In maturity, Salting shunned portraiture, assuming an expression of diffidence or withdrawal, as here, in the few images that comprise his modest iconography. This desire for privacy was consistent with a frugal way of life, conducted in two rooms over a club in St James’s Street, whereas he might easily have filled a mansion with the rarities and artefacts he had amassed.

The best portraits are two very beautiful photographs taken around 1900 by an amateur photographer, Otto Rosenheim, like Oppenheimer a German refugee. [2] NPG 1790 is dedicated by the artist to ‘Mr Rosenheim’; this was presumably Maurice Rosenheim, the eventual donor of the drawing, rather than Otto Rosenheim (although one may have introduced the other to Salting). [3] A note in the National Portrait Gallery files underlines the real value of Oppenheimer’s not especially distinguished drawing: ‘This is an excellent likeness & believed to be the only portrait of him taken from life as far as most of his friends know.’ [4]

In his will Salting ‘gave unto the Nation my Art Collections’, and Sir Charles Holmes, then director of the NPG, was among the experts invited to view and assess the objects. This reminded him of a visit to Salting’s rooms (perhaps in the early 1900s), observing his eccentric thriftiness in the midst of great treasures. Holmes wrote in his memoirs:

As I looked through Salting’s pictures with Holroyd and Berenson at Trafalgar Square I could not help contrasting this superb bequest with Salting’s habit of life. Some years before, I had come one winter morning, by appointment, to his rooms above the Thatched House Club. Salting had not yet got up, but he insisted on my climbing, boots and all, on to the very bed in which he was lying, so that I might look closely at a Constable which hung above it, near Crome’s marvellous Moonrise on the Yare. Finally he rose, a strange figure with his long gray beard and crumpled nightgown, to show me some particular treasure. I feared the old gentleman would catch cold. So insisted upon retiring to the sitting-room till he had splashed in his saucer-bath, and got some clothes on. When he had done the honours of the things visible, he proceeded to reveal things hidden. Plunging into a drawer full of collars and handkerchiefs he pulled out a paper parcel. It contained a magnificent necklace which he hastily popped back, to rummage again until he found underneath the ivory which he wanted. […] His hospitality in any other man would have been accounted for meanness. […] [My uncle Richard Holmes] was invited to lunch and came up from Windsor for that purpose. Salting displayed his latest purchases until the table in his sitting-room was heaped with them. An hour or more was spent in this way, and still nothing was said about the expected meal. My uncle, a bit of a gourmet, grew fainter and fainter. At last he could bear it no longer, and said he really must be off to lunch. ‘Oh! I nearly forgot,’ replied Salting and, clearing a space with a sweep of his arm among the outspread treasures, he pulled open the table drawer to produce two plates of cold beef. [5]

The drawing was donated to the Gallery by a contemporary collector and perhaps friend of Salting’s, Maurice Rosenheim, FSA, in June 1917. [6]

Carol Blackett-Ord

Footnotesback to top

1) Joseph Oppenheimer, born Würzburg, Germany, 1876, lived London 1900–10, exhibiting at RA 1905–53 (with intervals) and RP; died in Canada 1967 (see Who Was Who 1972). For a collection of his works see the Joseph and Fanny Oppenheimer Foundation, Montreal.
2) For Otto Rosenheim see ‘All known portraits’, note 2.
3) It is unclear if Maurice and Otto Rosenheim were related. Like Salting, Maurice Rosenheim (d. 1922), a wine merchant, was an important collector of Renaissance works of art and a generous benefactor to the BM, London. Maurice inherited the collection from his older brother Max Rosenheim (1849–1911). Information from BM Collections Research website.
4) Note from ‘C.L.’, 3 Hertford Street, Mayfair [undated but May–June 1917], NPG RP 1790.
5) Holmes 1936, pp.272–3. See also Read 1910.
6) In July 1917, soon after acquisition, a replacement frame (‘a new double gilt hollow frame, back, own glass & fitting up, 18s.’) was ordered from Francis Draper; note in NPG RP 1790.

Physical descriptionback to top

Bust and head in profile to left, with dark eyebrows and eyelashes, long white beard.

Conservationback to top

Conserved, 1984.

Provenanceback to top

Given by Maurice Rosenheim, June 1917.

View all known portraits for George Salting