6 – Mark Gertler

Near Swanage, 1916 (oil on board)

Near Swanage, 1916 (oil on board)

Panel 6 Mark Gertler (1891 – 1939)
Mark Gertler painted this view of Ballard Down and Old Harry rocks in 1916, while he was staying with his friend Montague Shearman at Peveril House in Swanage, a place he loved. ‘From every window one could paint a splendid picture,’ he wrote in a letter from there.

Everything in this landscape enraptured Gertler – the sea, ‘an intense blue with hot green trees silhouetted against it’; the ‘crude greens of the earth’; the ‘sunlit  whites  of  the  cliff,  clear cut and solid, like coloured sculpture’; the rocks and quarries – ‘chunks of beautiful stone everywhere’. He wished he could carry a lump of stone home, ‘for carving in.’

Home for Gertler was London. He was born in 1891 in a slum in the East End, the fifth child of a family of Jewish immigrants from Poland. His talent for drawing soon won him prizes,  and  at 16 he gained a place at the Slade School of Art, an exceptional achievement for a poor boy in Edwardian England.

Here he flourished, making friends with such fellow-artists as Paul Nash, Edward Wadsworth and Stanley Spencer, and attracting influential patrons including William Rothenstein and Lady Ottoline Morrell. He fell in love with Dora Carrington, another gifted Slade student, a relationship that brought  both inspiration and unhappiness.

Gertler lived and worked with passionate intensity, exploring many styles of painting; the writer Virginia Woolf recorded his ‘fanatical devotion to his art’.  But  he  came  to feel alienated both from his working-class Jewish background and the intelligentsia he had joined. He suffered from tuberculosis and depression; his work fell out of fashion and his income dried up.  His marriage to Marjorie Hodgkinson, with whom he had a son, Luke, ended in 1938.

Shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, Mark Gertler committed suicide. His masterpiece, The Merry-Go-Round (1916), today hangs prominently at Tate Modern in London, often attracting large crowds.

Janet Watts