For He Had Great Possessions
The painter, etcher, miniaturist, lithographer, woodcut engraver and teacher, Amy Julia Drucker was born in London in 1873, although her origins are obscure. She trained at both St John’s Wood and Lambeth Schools of Art (the latter aimed at artisans who wished to earn a living from art), afterwards maintaining a studio in Bloomsbury, before travelling to Paris. Drucker also travelled extensively in the Far East, South America and in Abyssinia (Ethiopia), where she painted a life-size portrait of the Emperor, and spent several months in Palestine in 1920. During the First World War she served in the Land Army and during the Second worked as a factory hand and night-watchman. Between 1889 and 1939 she exhibited regularly all over England, including at the Royal Academy, specialising in atmospheric paintings of London (particularly East End) life. In 1906 she exhibited a well-received painting, fittingly entitled The Aliens at the Whitechapel Art Gallery’s Jewish Art and Antiquities exhibition, which had been largely conceived in response to the 1905 ‘Aliens Act’ designed to limit foreign immigration rights. She was also included (outside the ‘Jewish Section’) in 1914 in the exhibition Twentieth-Century Art: A Review of Modern Movements, when her work was hung between that of ‘Whitechapel Girl’ Clare Winsten, with whom she studied sculpture at the Central School, and the Vorticist Helen Saunders.
For He had Great Possessions, possibly a later reworking of The Aliens, depicts a migrant family, probably newly-arrived in England, seeking work and shelter; the presence of a barrow boy locates it in the East End. This single family unit is emblematic of the vast wave of eastern-European Jews escaping persecution and financial hardship who fled to Britain before, during and after the Second World War. However, the date also suggests that they are economic migrants, victims of the 1930s ‘slump’. The title invokes the biblical story in which a man refuses to part with his earthly riches in exchange for spiritual enlightenment, the subject of a well-known single figure painting by G. F. Watts (1894, Tate). However, Drucker’s painting suggests that although the father is not materially wealthy, the members of his family are nonetheless his ‘great possessions’.
A striking figure with a strong profile and a highly individual way of dressing, Drucker often wore a cape and a broad-brimmed black hat and was never without a multi-coloured Mexican bag slung from her left shoulder. Following strong sales from her 1952 memorial exhibition, the Ben Uri Arts Committee (7 April 1952) decided to purchase For He Had Great Possessions; however, the work was subsequently acquired and presented by Dr Geoffrey Kohnstamm (a patron of Alfred Wolmark). She has four further works in the Ben Uri collection. After her death an annual prize of £10 was twice awarded to a promising young Jewish artist in her memory. The first recipient was Henry Sanders (1952); the second and final prize went to Alfred Harris (1954).