This article is taken from Stand 233, 20(1) May - July 2022.

Elizabeth Cook Isaac Rosenberg - 'a poet to paint a poet'
Ogni pittore dipinge sé: Every painter paints himself – a variously attributed saying from the early Renaissance that can be interpreted both as the small, obvious observation that a painter is likely to use him or herself as an object/model to be portrayed, or in the wider sense of Carlyle’s observation that ‘All that a man does is physiognomical of him’. Both interpretations are true of Isaac Rosenberg and, if we assent to the Carlyle-ish interpretation, then it is not only Rosenberg’s several self-portraits that show us himself, but also his portraits of others, his landscape paintings, his drawings from imagination, as well as those many marks on paper of all descriptions that constitute the manuscripts of his poems and letters. This essay will be less about the first kind of self-portraiture than the others.

In 2008 the Ben Uri Gallery’s Whitechapel at War: Isaac Rosenberg and his Circle, was the first exhibition ever to focus on Rosenberg’s achievement as a visual artist. It exhibited more than fifty works by Rosenberg, ranging from finished oil paintings to hurried sketches on scraps of paper. It demonstrated that Rosenberg was a considerable visual artist who more than took his place among the group of ‘Whitechapel Boys’ (described by Geoffrey Hill as ‘that magnificently unmute throng’) who attended the Slade around 1911 – a group that included David Bomberg, Mark Gertler and (from 1913) Jacob Kramer, a graduate of the Leeds School of Art who would later return to Leeds. The group regularly painted portraits of one another – ...
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