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Group including Marion Harry Spielmann

Group including Marion Harry Spielmann, by John Henry Amschewitz, 1907 -NPG 3047 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Group including Marion Harry Spielmann

by John Henry Amschewitz
Pen and ink with traces of pencil and china white on cream paper, 1907
17 3/8 in. x 12 3/4 in. (443 mm x 326 mm)
NPG 3047

Inscriptionback to top

Inscr. and dated in ink lower right-hand corner of design: ‘Ponim / 07’;
and inscr. in pencil at right, outside ruled line: ‘13 1/2’.
On reverse inscr. in pencil, half hidden by mounting tape: ‘From the Jewish […]’;
in ink: ‘M.H. Spielmann / by J.H. Aschewitz [sic] 1907 / (signing “Ponim” = [letters in hebrew] = Faces)’;
and in blue pencil: ‘8 1/2 ins wide’ with various calculations in faint pencil.
Two pieces of discarded mount (now removed to NPG RP 3047):
(a) inscr. in ink: ‘M.H. Spielmann – by J.H. Amshewitz, RBA. (“Ponim” = faces, portraits). 1907 [Drawing made unknown to M.H.S. for the J.W. and therein published …’.
(b) inscr. in pencil: ‘Portrait of MH Spielmann / also of the artist, J.H. Amshewitz / and of Henry Rensberg’.

This portraitback to top

In the late 1930s, in his eighties but still very alert, M.H. Spielmann invited the director of the National Portrait Gallery to view his collection and make a selection for immediate presentation. Henry Hake drew up a wish-list of twenty-five portraits, including several remarkable eighteenth- and nineteenth-century artist self-portraits (see NPG 3023 to NPG 3047). At the end of the list he added a portrait of the benefactor himself by John Henry Amschewitz, NPG 3047.

Spielmann was delighted but also peeved that Hake had not chosen a finer image:

I am immensely flattered that you should include me in the list. But could you not take another likeness of me rather than that rough pen drawing by Amshewitz, which was published by the newspaper for which it was drawn? I should be adjudged, no doubt, unworthy of a painting (even a small one) but one or two are really fine works of art, which would be interesting for their painters’ authorship. [1]

Hake did not mince his words: ‘I included that particular likeness of yourself because it showed you engaged in the activity through which you became known. That, to me, is its interest as an historic document.’ [2]

Three years later, firmly and politely, Spielmann raised the matter again.

I wrote to ask whether the entry in your list as to a portrait of me by Amschewitz was a slip or really an error. Amschewitz never drew me (that I can recall) – but there is a portrait of himself not acknowledged in your list. Is not this it? I should like the matter settled because if there is an error I have certain portraits of myself by excellent artists one of which I think you would be glad to have as a genuine likeness, & an excellent work. Otherwise I feel that I may lose the honour of being on the NPG list of accepted portraits – or may be turned out altogether!! [3]

The director stood his ground, and Spielmann was represented only by the drawing until 1964, when the bequest of NPG 4352 set the record straight from the family’s point of view.

The drawing shows Spielmann viewing an exhibition surrounded by visitors including the artist himself (extreme right) and the financier Henry Rensburg. [4] It was made in 1907, the year John Henry Amschewitz left the Royal Academy Schools. [5] Spielmann denied it was ever done from life. Certainly the head and shoulders are drawn on a separate (but matching) square of paper (69 x 62mm) which has been stuck onto the main drawing. Inscriptions on the back and a note and a cutting in NPG RP 3047 indicate it was produced for publication in the newspaper the Jewish World in 1907 (captioned ‘Mr Marion H. Spielmann, F.S.A.’). [6] The pose does not relate to any known photograph.

For further details of the Spielmann Gift, accepted in 1939, see NPG RP 3023.

Carol Blackett-Ord

Footnotesback to top

1) Letter from M.H. Spielmann to H. Hake, 7 Jan. 1939, NPG RP 3023.
2) Letter from H. Hake to M.H. Spielmann, 11 Jan. 1939, NPG RP 3023.
3) Letter from M.H. Spielmann to H. Hake, 9 Feb. 1942, NPG RP3047. See sale of Spielmann collection, Robinson & Foster, 29 Jan. 1948 (157), for a chalk drawing of J.H. Amshewitz by Frank Emanuel.
4) See under ‘Inscription’ for note on old mount in NPG RP 3047.
5) Also known as Jacob Harry Amshewitz; exh. RA 1905–33 and from 1916 worked mainly in S. Africa. Amshewitz, the son of a rabbi, was like Spielmann part of a significant and influential group of Jewish artists and intellectuals at this period. For further details see Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon 1992–, vol.3; and Who Was Who 1952.
6) No further details for Jewish World. ‘Ponim’, Amschewitz’s illustrator’s signature, means ‘face’ in Hebrew.

Physical descriptionback to top

Whole-length, full-face, standing in an exhibition gallery, with papers in left hand, top hat deposited on chair.

Provenanceback to top

Part of the Spielmann Gift, accepted 1939.

Reproductionsback to top

Jewish World, 1907 (cutting in NPG RP 3047).

View all known portraits for Marion Harry Spielmann


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