Ben Uri collection

The Mourners (Sitting Shiva)

Artist information

Name Emmanuel Levy (1900-1986)

Born Manchester, England

Died London, England

Find more work in the collection by this artist

Emmanuel Levy, like Jacob Kramer, was one of a small group of Jewish artists, whose families, fleeing persecution, restrictive legislation and economic hardship settled in the north of England as part of the wider Jewish migration to Britain at the close of the nineteenth century.

The son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, he was born in Hightown, Manchester, the area immortalized by the Jewish writer Louis Golding in his best-selling novel Magnolia Street (1932), which Levy later adapted as a radio play. His father was the beadle at the Great Synagogue, Cheetham Hill and Levy attended the local Jews’ Free School, before studying at Manchester School of Art under Adolphe Valette (c.1918) together with L. S. Lowry, as well as at St Martin’s School of Art in London, and in Paris. He returned to Manchester for his first solo show in 1925. In 1928 Levy was appointed a special instructor in life drawing at Manchester University School of Architecture, recommended by Valette, whom he succeeded, and gave popular public demonstrations in portrait painting. From 1929, for several years, he was Art Critic for Manchester City News and the Evening News. Indeed, his 60-year career was so closely associated with his native city that Lord Ardwick described him as ‘a Manchester man through and through. But’, he continued, ‘there is nothing provincial or even distinctly English in his work. He is a citizen of the world’.

Although he experimented with Cubism and Surrealism, Levy abandoned these styles in favour of naturalism, specializing in figurative work exploring the human condition.He held six solo exhibitions in Manchester between 1925 and 1963, with further solo shows in London, including at Ben Uri (1953, 1978 and 1989), where his work was also shown from 1935 onwards in numerous group shows. The Ben Uri Collection holds 13 works by Levy including a portrait drawing of fellow Jewish artist Horace Brodzky.

Object Details

Date 1928

Object type painting

Medium oil on canvas

Materials and techniques oil (medium) canvas (support)

Unframed 72.5 x 91 cm

Framed 88.8 x 108.6 x 3 cm

Signed (lower right) Emmanuel Levy 1928

Acquisition Presented by the Estate of Victoria Sternfield 2014

Accession number 2014-07

Display status not on display

Levy painted this moving work in 1928 following the death of his father, the former beadle of the Old Congregation in Cheetham Hill Road. It shows the Jewish ceremony of Sitting Shiva in which members of the immediate family gather (usually in the deceased’s home) to mourn for seven days following the burial. The shallow picture space and hard-edged figures show an awareness of Cubism, which Levy later rejected in favour of naturalism. According to his close friend Bernard Sternfield, the artist always considered this ‘his major work’.

Selected exhibition history

1953 Paintings by Emmanuel Levy

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© Emmanuel Levy estate