John Henry Amshewitz, British/ South African (1882-1942). The Castilian, Circa 1935.
Oil on canvas signed J H Amshewitz
88.5 cm by 63 cm (35 inches by 25 inches)
Provenance- Private collection of paintings from the Amshewitz Estate, February 2023, Pretoria.
This painting is listed and illustrated (Plate 54) in The Paintings of J. H. Amshewitz R.B.A by Sarah Briana Amshewitz and was part of the family collection.
Inscribed to the reverse: The Castilian by J. H. Amshewitz R.B.A. Lent by Mrs Amshewitz, 8 Elray St. Raedene, Johannesburg South Africa.
This painting is listed and illustrated (Plate 54) in The Paintings of J. H. Amshewitz R.B.A by Sarah Briana Amshewitz and was part of the family collection. On page 17 the following is noted “One of Amshewitz’s most impressive portraits done from a model, showing a noble austerity of countenance is “the Castilian.” The face is in luminous half shadow relieved by sharp lights on the nose and forehead and stands out from the rest of the subject which is almost a brown monochrome in colour. The virile hands, one of which holds a precious blue-green vase, are an added revelation of character.”
John Henry Amshewitz was born on the 19th of December 1882 at Ramsgate in England. In 1902 he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy schools, where he studied under John Singer Sargent, Sir George Clausen and Solomon J. Solomon amongst others. In 1905 he won the £40 prize for mural decoration and had his first picture hung at the Royal Academy.
In 1906 his final year, he again had a picture, hung at the Royal Academy. This portrayed his father, a noted Hebrew scholar, author and respected Rabbi. In 1907, he received a commission to produce four frescoes for the Liverpool Town Hall, each spanning a length of seven and a half meters. His designs had won both the first and second places in an open competition held for the Liverpool Memorial, commemorating the 700th anniversary of the granting of the Charter to the city. This was followed in 1910 by a commission to paint a large mural for the Royal Exchange in London and in 1911 he did ten water-colours commissioned by the Medici Society to illustrate Everyman. His first portrait commissions were from Frederick Halford, a noted authority on dry-fly fishing, followed by the Right Honourable Percy Holding Illingworth, MP. For the next few years his work was exhibited at the Royal Academy and one of his works “Riches’ caught the eye of Queen Mary in 1915.
In 1916, having been rejected for military service due to an injury sustained during the creation of the Liverpool murals, he was invited to travel to South Africa for a six-month engagement in a theatrical production of “Potash and Perlmutter,” a popular Jewish comedy written originally for the Broadway stage a few years earlier. After this he settled in Johannesburg where he painted a portrait of Solly Joel and a variety of paintings showing gold mining scenes and locals, including “The Fortune – Hunter” and “The Voortrekker”. In 1917 he became the chief cartoonist for The Sunday Times and Rand Daily Mail and was responsible for the establishment of a sketch club to encourage young local talent, which in turn led to the founding of the School of Art.
In 1918 he married Sarah Briana Judes and eighteen months later they had a son Marion Harry Amshewitz. In 1920 he painted Mrs Louis Botha the wife of General Botha, the first Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa and in 1921 completed three panels including “The Great Comforter”. This was a War Memorial for the Church of St. Michael and All Angels in Boksburg. His first Cape Town exhibition at Ashbey’s Gallery in late 1921 was well received and in 1922 he and his family returned to England.
In 1923 he exhibited at the Royal Society of British Artists which included a portrait of J. Langley Levy. In 1924 he was invited by South Africa House to supervise their Art Section at the Great Wembley Exhibition and he showed a portrait of Sir George Cory. In 1925 at the International Exhibition at the Royal Academy he exhibited “The Wedding” which was later acquired by the South African National Gallery in Cape Town. In 1927 he held an exhibition at the Fine Art Society in Bond Street.
He was adept in the art of etchings and dry points and in 1927 had etchings published in the Sketch, Illustrated London News, the Sphere, the Graphic and Punch. The Philadelphia Print Club chose “The Golden Wedding” for its 1931 exhibition in the USA. A few of his etchings were also reproduced in History of British and American Etching by James Laver, Etching and Etchings by Frank l Emanuel and Teach Yourself Etching by H. Cutner.
In 1929 his work was shown in the British Artists Exhibition in Italy and at the Paris Salon in France where he was awarded an Honourable Mention for “My Mother”. Prince George acquired “The Merry Monarch” in 1929 when he opened the exhibition Work of British Artists in Glasgow and later acquired the water colour “Settlers 1820”. In 1931 he sketched “Ghandhi in Conference” and Princess Alice; Countess of Athlone acquired “Rouge in Porcelain”. Queen Mary and other members of the Royal Family visited their home in 1932. In 1933 he sketched Albert Einstein which was published as the front page of the Illustrated London News.
In 1933 he was commissioned to paint three large panels showing the discovery of South Africa for South Africa House in London and in 1935 he was commissioned to do a panel for the Athlone Castle by Mr Robertson Gibb, head of the Union Castle.
He returned to South Africa in 1936 to Johannesburg and completed in 1937 “Onward – Voortrekker” a large panel for the Pretoria City Hall. This was followed by “My Zulu Boy” in 1937 which was published in the South African Annual in 1938. He moved to Cape Town in 1939 for health reasons and painted “Lady Anne Barnard leaving the Castle” and “Jan Van Riebeeck Saluting the Flag” in 1941 for the New General Post office in Cape Town.
He passed away on the sixth of December 1942 in his studio, shortly before his sixtieth birthday. In tribute to his services to Art in South Africa the Johannesburg City Council named a street after him, spelt Amschewitz Street in Rooseveldt Park.
On the 16th of September 1943 a memorial exhibition of Amshewitz’ s work was held at the Duncan Hall in the City Hall of Johannesburg which was opened by Lord Harlech (High Commissioner for the United Kingdom in South Africa)
Today his work can be found in museums and collections worldwide including The V & A in London, The South African Gallery in Cape Town, The Africana Museum in Johannesburg, the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and The Metropolitan Museum in New York.