Mark Gertler (artist)

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Self portrait (1920)

Mark Gertler (9 December 1891 – 23 June 1939), born Marks Gertler, was a British painter of figure subjects, portraits and still-life.

His early life and his relationship with Dora Carrington were the inspiration for Gilbert Cannan's novel Mendel.[1] The characters of Loerke in D. H. Lawrence's Women in Love[2] and Gombauld in Aldous Huxley's Crome Yellow were based on him.[3]

Early life[edit]

Queen of Sheba, 1922

Marks Gertler was born on 9 December 1891 in Spitalfields, London, the youngest child of Polish Jewish immigrants, Louis Gertler and Kate "Golda" Berenbaum.[4] He had four older siblings: Deborah (b. 1881), Harry (b. 1882), Sophie (b. 1883) and Jacob "Jack" (b. 1886).

In 1892 his parents took the family to his mother's native city, Przemyśl, Austria-Hungary (now Poland), where they worked as innkeepers.[5] Though Louis was popular with his customers, mainly Austrian soldiers, the inn was a failure.[5] One night without telling anyone Louis simply left for America (ca. 1893) in search of work. He eventually sent word to Golda telling her that once he was settled she was to bring the children to live with him there.[5] However, this venture also failed and his family never joined him in America.

Instead Louis returned to Britain, and had his family join him in London in 1896, when Marks' forename was anglicised as 'Mark'.[6]

From an early age Gertler showed signs of a great talent for drawing. On leaving school in 1906, he enrolled in art classes at Regent Street Polytechnic. Unfortunately, due to his family's poverty, he was forced to drop out after a year, and in December 1907 began working as an apprentice at Clayton & Bell, a stained glass company.[7] He disliked his work there and rarely spoke of it in later years.[7] While there he attended evening classes at the Polytechnic. In 1908 Gertler was placed third in a national art competition; this inspired him to apply for a scholarship from the Jewish Education Aid Society (JEAS) to resume his studies as an artist.[8] The application was successful. Upon the advice of the prominent Jewish artist William Rothenstein, in 1908 he enrolled at the Slade School of Art, University College, London. During the four years he spent at the Slade, Gertler was a contemporary of Paul Nash, Edward Wadsworth, C.R.W. Nevinson, Stanley Spencer and Isaac Rosenberg, among others.

During his time at Slade Gertler met the painter Dora Carrington, whom he pursued relentlessly for many years.[9] His obsessive love for Carrington is detailed in his published letters (see bibliography below) and in Sarah MacDougall's book Mark Gertler. It is also represented in the feature film Carrington (1995). His love for Carrington was unrequited, and she spent most of her life living with the homosexual author Lytton Strachey, with whom she was deeply in love. Carrington's unconventional relationship with Strachey, of whom Gertler was extremely jealous, and her eventual marriage to Ralph Partridge, destroyed her equally complex relationship with Gertler.[10] He had been so distraught when he learned of Carrington's marriage that he tried to purchase a revolver, and threatened to commit suicide.[11]

Career[edit]

Mark Gertler with T. S. Eliot (left), and his patron Lady Ottoline Morrell

Gertler's patron was Lady Ottoline Morrell,[12] through whom he became acquainted with the Bloomsbury Group. She introduced him to Walter Sickert, the nominal leader of the Camden Town Group.[13] Gertler was soon enjoying success as a painter of society portraits, but his temperamental manner and devotion to advancing his work according to his own vision led to increasing personal frustration and the alienation of potential sitters and buyers. As a result, he struggled frequently with poverty.

In 1914 the polymath art collector Edward Marsh became Gertler's patron. The relationship between the two men proved a difficult one, as Gertler felt that the system of patronage and the circle in which he moved was in direct conflict with his sense of self. In 1916, as World War I dragged on, Gertler ended the relationship due to his pacifism and conscientious objection (Marsh being secretary to Winston Churchill and patron to some of the war poets). His major painting, Merry-Go-Round, was created in the midst of the war years and was described by Lawrence as "the best modern picture I have seen" (Letters, 9 October 1916).

Gilbert Cannan at his Mill, 1916

In 1913 Gertler met the author and poet Gilbert Cannan, who later described him as 'a small passionate man with green eyes'. Cannan subsequently invited Mark to stay with him and his wife Mary at their Mill House in Cholesbury and the two men became good friends. Gertler lived there on and off during 1915–16, and painted Gilbert Cannan at his Mill now on view in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. The picture depicts Cannan outside the Mill with his two dogs. The black and white one called Luath had been the inspiration for the dog Nana in the stage production of J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan. It was Cannan who was responsible for introducing Lady Ottoline Morrell to Gertler's paintings and encouraging her to support his work. Cannan closely based the young Jewish character of his 1916 novel Mendel on Gertler's early life including his infatuation and affair with fellow artist Dora Carrington. A relationship which remained unfulfilled as Dora spurned his numerous advances and instead declared her love for Lytton Strachey. Cannan's and Gertler's friendship waned after 1916, due in main to Cannan's increasingly unstable behaviour.[14][15]

Virginia Woolf recorded her impressions of Gertler after he came to visit her and her husband in Sussex in September 1918. As he left they cried,[16]

“Good God, what an egoist!” We have been talking about Gertler to Gertler for some 30 hours; it is like putting a microscope to your eye. One molehill is wonderfully clear; the surrounding world ceases to exist. But he is a forcible young man; if limited, able & respectable within those limits; as hard as a cricket ball; & as tightly rounded & stuffed in at the edges. We discussed — well, it always came back to Gertler. “I have a very peculiar character ... I am not like any other artist ... My picture would not have those blank spaces ... I don’t see that, because in my case I have a sense which other people don’t have ... I saw in a moment what she had never dreamt of seeing ...” & so on. And if you do slip a little away, he watches very jealously, from his own point of view, & somehow tricks you back again. He hoards an insatiable vanity. I suspect the truth to be that he is very anxious for the good opinion of people like ourselves, & would immensely like to be thought well of by Duncan [Grant], Vanessa [Bell] & Roger [Fry]. His triumphs have been too cheap so far. However this is honestly outspoken, & as I say, he has power & intelligence, & will, one sees, paint good interesting pictures, though some rupture of the brain would have to take place before he could be a painter.

Gertler's later works developed a sometimes very harsh edge to them, influenced by his increasing ill health. In 1920 he was diagnosed with tuberculosis,[17] a disease which forced him to enter a sanatorium on a number of occasions during the twenties and thirties. Two of Gertler's close friends, D. H. Lawrence and Katherine Mansfield, both succumbed to the disease.

In 1930 Gertler married Marjorie Greatorex Hodgkinson,[18] which resulted in the birth of a son, Luke Gertler, in 1932.[19] The marriage was often difficult, punctuated by the frequent ill health of both, and with Gertler often suffering from the same feelings of constraint that destroyed his relationships with a number of friends and patrons.

During the 1930s he also became a part-time teacher at the Westminster School of Art in order to supplement his intermittent income from painting.[20]

Gertler's former home at 32 Elder Street, Spitalfields, marked with a blue plaque in 1975 by the Greater London Council

Gertler gassed himself in his London studio in 1939, having attempted suicide on at least one occasion in 1936. He was suffering at the time from increasing financial difficulties, his wife had recently left him, he had held a critically derided exhibition at the Lefevre Gallery, he was still depressed over the death of his mother and Carrington's own suicide (both in 1932), and he was filled with fear over the imminent world war.[21] He was buried at Willesden Jewish Cemetery.

Legacy[edit]

Gertler’s obituary in The Times described his death as ‘a serious loss to British art. Opinions of his work are likely to vary,’ it conceded, ‘but it is safe to say that a considered list of the half-dozen most important painters under fifty working in England would include him'.[22] Gertler's paintings are held in numerous public art collections, including in the Glasgow Museums.[23]

Today Gertler's Spitalfields residence is home to the atelier of British tailor Timothy Everest.[24]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Carrington, N.(1965) Mark Gertler: Selected Letters, with an introduction by Quentin Bell, London
  • Farr, Diana (1978). Gilbert Cannan A Georgian Prodigy. London: Chatto & Windus. ISBN 0-7011-2245-5. 
  • Mark Gertler: The Early and the Late Years, exhibition catalogue, London, Ben Uri Art Gallery, 1982
  • Haycock, David Boyd (2009). A Crisis of Brilliance: Five Young British Artists and the Great War. London: Old Street Publishing. ISBN 978-1-905847-84-6. 
  • MacDougall, Sarah (2002). Mark Gertler. London: John Murray. ISBN 0-7195-5799-2. 
  • Woodeson, John (1972). Mark Gertler: biography of a painter, 1891–1939. London: Sidgwick and Jackson. ISBN 0-283-97831-7. 
  • Woodeson, John (1971). Mark Gertler, 1891–1939 [exhibition catalogue]. Colchester: Minories. 

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ MacDougall, S. (2002).: "Mark Gertler", page 140. London: John Murray Pub. Ltd.
  2. ^ MacDougall, S. (2002).: "Mark Gertler", page 106. London: John Murray Pub. Ltd.
  3. ^ MacDougall, S. (2002).: "Mark Gertler", page 155. London: John Murray Pub. Ltd.
  4. ^ MacDougall, S. (2002).: "Mark Gertler", page 3. London: John Murray Pub. Ltd.
  5. ^ a b c MacDougall, S. (2002).: "Mark Gertler", page 5. London: John Murray Pub. Ltd.
  6. ^ MacDougall, S. (2002).: "Mark Gertler", page 6. London: John Murray Pub. Ltd.
  7. ^ a b MacDougall, S. (2002).: "Mark Gertler", page 24. London: John Murray Pub. Ltd.
  8. ^ MacDougall, S. (2002).: "Mark Gertler", pages 25-27. London: John Murray Pub. Ltd.
  9. ^ MacDougall, S. (2002).: "Mark Gertler", page 66. London: John Murray Pub. Ltd.
  10. ^ MacDougall, S. (2002).: "Mark Gertler", page 163. London: John Murray Pub. Ltd.
  11. ^ MacDougall, S. (2002).: "Mark Gertler", London: John Murray, p.261
  12. ^ MacDougall, S. (2002).: "Mark Gertler", pages 96-98. London: John Murray Pub. Ltd.
  13. ^ MacDougall, S. (2002).: "Mark Gertler", page 98. London: John Murray Pub. Ltd.
  14. ^ Farr, Diana (1978). Gilbert Cannan A Georgian Prodigy. London: Chatto & Windus. ISBN 0-7011-2245-5. 
  15. ^ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography - Mark Gertler Accessed 2009_10_27
  16. ^ Ann Olivier Bell (ed.). 1977. The Diary of Virginia Woolf, Vol. I: 1915—1919. London: The Hogarth Press, 1977, p. 198
  17. ^ MacDougall, S. (2002).: "Mark Gertler", page 92. London: John Murray Pub. Ltd.
  18. ^ MacDougall, S. (2002).: "Mark Gertler", pages 264-267. London: John Murray Pub. Ltd.
  19. ^ MacDougall, S. (2002).: "Mark Gertler", page 279. London: John Murray Pub. Ltd.
  20. ^ MacDougall, S. (2002).: "Mark Gertler", page 266. London: John Murray Pub. Ltd.
  21. ^ MacDougall, S. (2002).: "Mark Gertler", page 325. London: John Murray Pub. Ltd.
  22. ^ Haycock, D. (2009), "A Crisis of Brilliance", page 319. London" Old Street Pub.
  23. ^ Sam Maddra, Joanna Meacock and Lisa Pearson, ed. (2013). Oil Paintings in Public Ownership in Glasgow Museums. London: The Public Catalogue Foundation. p. 153. ISBN 978-1-904931-81-2. 
  24. ^ The Independent. [1], "The Independent", London. Retrieved 29-07-10.