Ben Uri Museum entrusts Gertler’s painting to the portrait gallery

11:10 am February 10, 2022

13:51 February 19, 2022

A museum in St John’s Wood has donated Mark Gertler’s portrait of diplomat Sir Sydney Waterlow to the National Portrait Gallery so it can be seen more widely.

The tiny Ben Uri Gallery in Boundary Road said the transfer between museums was part of its commitment to freeing hidden works from long-term storage for the public good.

Waterlow (1878-1944) was the grandson of the Highgate philanthropist who donated Waterlow Park to the public as a “garden for the gardenless”. He was also part of the famous Bloomsbury Band, unsuccessfully proposing to Virginia Woolf and befriending Gertler, who had a passionate, mostly unrequited relationship with fellow artist Dora Carrington.

Rosie Broadley, Head of NPG Collections Displays, said: “We are very grateful to Ben Uri Gallery for generously transferring this important work. It is a welcome addition to the gallery’s collection, which includes a number of key portraits depicting the model’s Bloomsbury contemporaries.

Ben Uri’s director, Sarah MacDougall, said: “We are delighted that this important work has found its way into such a distinguished national collection, alongside other Bloomsbury portraits by Gertler and others”.

First exhibited in February 1922, the portrait captures Waterlow – affectionately known as “Monarch” – at mid-career. He was a member of Gertler’s all-male band of mostly writers and intellectuals – known as “The Thursdays” – which met weekly at his Hampstead home throughout the 1920s and 1930s.

Born in Spitalfields to Austrian Jewish parents, Gertler grew up in the East End, but his talent was spotted by artist William Rothenstein who encouraged him to attend the Slade School of Fine Art. There he met Carrington and later socialized with members of the Bloomsbury band, including artists Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and Roger Fry. But he fell out with Lytton Strachey when Carrington left him to live with the writer.

A conscientious objector and pacifist, Gertler had moved to Well Mount Studios, Hampstead in 1915 and the following year painted his famous anti-war work Merry-go-Round, taken from a fairground ride on Hampstead Heath. He lived at other Hampstead addresses including the Vale of Health and Haverstock Hill and, after his disappointment with Carrington, married and had a son.

But in 1939, miserable, suffering from tuberculosis and in a failing marriage, he committed suicide in his studio at 5 Grove Terrace, Highgate Road.

Julia P. Cluff