Ben Uri collection

Still Life with a Bottle of Benedictine

Artist information

Name Mark Gertler (1891-1939)

Born London, England

Died London, England

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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 41 x 48 cm

Framed 56.5 x 64 cm

Signed signed and dated, bottom right: M. Gertler 1908

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

Accession number 1987-114

Display status not on display

Perhaps originally inspired by a Friday-night eve of Sabbath supper, this early still-life was probably created towards the end of Gertler’s brief training at the Regent Street Polytechnic (1906-8), before he began at the Slade School of Art. It relates closely to the Study of a Still Life in the National Gallery, signed ‘Chardin. 1754’, but now recognised as by a nineteenth-century imitator. It was painted at a time when Gertler greatly admired the old masters of Dutch realism, and its later followers including Jean-Simeon Chardin, and began to ‘haunt’ the rooms of the National Gallery, crafting his own pictures in their image. These simple kitchen scenes appealed to Gertler because of their familiarity. These were the objects he found in his mother’s kitchen (where he had his first studio) and his close relationship with his mother is also reflected in his choice of everyday subject matter. Gertler later recalled the painting of these ‘simple and loveable little still lives’ in his mother’s kitchen as among his finest moments. The round loaf depicted resembles a Challah loaf, now closely associated with the festival of Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year), with the spiral rounds thought to symbolise the continuity of creation.

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