Ben Uri collection

Portrait of a Girl (Sophie, the artist's sister)

Artist information

Name Mark Gertler (1891-1939)

Born London, England

Died London, England

Find more work in the collection by this artist

Mark Gertler was born in a slum lodging house in Spitalfields in 1891, the fifth and youngest child of Austrian-Jewish immigrant parents ‘trying their luck’ in London. Repatriated to their native Przemysl in Galicia the following year, the family lived on the brink of starvation after the departure of Gertler’s father, Louis, to search for work in America until they were reunited in London’s East End in 1896, less than a mile from where Mark had been born. Following an unhappy apprenticeship at Clayton and Bell stained-glass makers, and a brief training at the Regent School Polytechnic, Gertler entered the Slade School of Fine Art (1908–11), aided by a loan from the Jewish Education Aid Society – the first and youngest Jewish working-class student of his generation to do so. His spectacular progress – he twice won the Slade scholarship and left with another from the British Institution – encouraged further ‘Whitechapel Boys’ including David Bomberg, Jacob Kramer and Isaac Rosenberg to follow in his footsteps. He had five solo shows at the Goupil Gallery (1921–6) and was a leading member of the London Group, but tuberculosis, first diagnosed in 1920, confined him to sanatoria in 1925, 1929 and 1936. Despite five further shows at the Leicester Galleries (1932–9), Gertler became an increasingly isolated figure in his last decade, commiting suicide in 1939.

Object Details

Date 1908

Object type painting

Medium oil on canvas

Materials and techniques oil (medium) canvas (support)

Unframed 58 x 48.5 cm

Acquisition presented on permanent loan by L.J. Morris 1976

Accession number 1987-110

Display status not on display

A head-and-shoulders portrait of the artist’s sister, Sophie, in full face view, her head turned slightly to the left, wearing a brown dress with white double-ruff collar and gold locket, her hair dressed up and away from the face in the Edwardian style. Sophie, eight years his senior, was one of Gertler’s favourite models – possibly due to her availability at home and readiness to sit. This is the artist’s earliest known portrait of her and his most Rembrandtesque. It probably dates from just after he began painting lessons under Philip Wilson Steer at the Slade in the autumn of 1908, where Gertler went on to complete a remarkable portfolio of family portraits.

Selected exhibition history

1957 Jankel Adler 1895-1949, Mark Gertler 1891-1939, Bernard Meninsky, 1891-1950


Barry Fealdman, Jewish Chronicle, 17 Sep 1976, p. ‘A bonus at the Ben Uri are three paintings by Mark Gertler, newly acquired on extended loan. [Among them] a portrait of his sister Sophie'.

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