Kramer, Jacob: Descent from the Cross
A powerful charcoal, chalk, ink and wash sketch from the ‘Crucifixion’ series completed in 1916 and which includes 2 companion images held by The University of Leeds Art Gallery. These are illustrated as Figures 24 and 37 in David Manson’s 2006 biography, Jacob Kramer ‘Creativity and Loss’.
Manson records that Kramer made frequent use of images of suffering and of Christ, and in this example, both are combined. The image was exhibited at Kramer’s first one-man show of 23 pictures held at the Bradford Arts Club in December 1916, and which was well received.
More images can be provided on request.
Artist: Jacob Kramer, (1892-1962)
Title and date: Descent from the Cross, 1916
Size: 20.0 x 15.5 cms.
Jacob Kramer continues to be one of the most underrated artists of the early twentieth century. He was born in the small Russian town of Klintsy in 1892, into an artistic middle class Jewish family. His father, Max, was a painter who had studied at the St Petersburg Fine Art Academy and had become a court painter. Kramer’s mother, Cecilia, was a trained singer who was well known for touring a regional network of theatres at which she performed traditional Slavic and Hebrew folk songs.
Following the accession of Tsar Nicholas II in 1894 a new virulent anti-semitic policy was introduced to force Russian Jews either to assimilate or leave the country. The Kramers chose the latter, and left Russia in 1900, emigrating to England where they settled in the northern industrial city of Leeds. Here they lived in poverty, with Max Kramer taking work as a photographer’s assistant. The Kramers had four more children born in Leeds, the oldest of whom, Sarah, later married the artist William Roberts.
In 1902, aged only ten, Kramer ran away from home, taking various jobs in different parts of the north of England, and even going away to sea for six months. During this time, Kramer attended occasional art classes, but his first formal art education was at Leeds School of Art which he attend from 1907 till 1913. During this time he became involved in the radical modernist Leeds Arts Club, which introduced him to the ideas of expressionist artists, such as Wassily Kandinsky. Writing to his close friend Herbert Read in 1918, Kramer stated that when he looked at an object he saw both its physical appearance and its spiritual manifestation, and his struggle was to escape the physical appearance and only paint the spiritual form. Such ideas came straight from the expressionist and Theosophical spiritualism that dominated the Leeds Arts Club, and show clearly that Kramer was himself an English Expressionist artist.
With a scholarship from the Jewish Educational Aid Society, Kramer was able to study at the Slade School of Art from 1913 to 1914. Here be befriended other leading artists of the day including Augustus John, David Bomberg and William Roberts, and he was involved in the Vorticist movement led by Roberts and Wyndham Lewis. In London Kramer rapidly became well known in the hedonistic artistic circles that dominated before the First World War and was to be seen frequently at well-known artistic haunts. In the early 1920s Kramer returned to Leeds where he became something of a local artistic celebrity. His early work is marked by a startling quality and originality, including paintings such as The Day of Atonement, The Talmudists, The Jew, Mother and Child, and the 1922 abstract expressionist painting Musical Theme. His friend Jacob Epstein made a bust of him in 1921, copies of which can be found in Tate Britain and at Leeds Art Gallery.
After the collapse of the Leeds Arts Club in 1923 he had numerous schemes to establish a new artistic meeting place in the city, almost all of which came to nothing. The great exception was the informal Yorkshire Luncheon Club, which met regularly at Whitelock’s public house, and invited some of the leading cultural figures of the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s to Leeds to speak. For the most part, however, Kramer’s return to Leeds was not a triumph, he lived in utter poverty, often producing poor quality portraits of local figures to support his alcoholism.
The Tate, the Victoria & Albert Museum and the British Museum all hold examples of Kramer’s work, but the most extensive collections can be found in Leeds at the City Art Gallery and University Art Gallery.