Portrait of Mrs Ethel Solomon in Riding Habit
Wolmark’s striking portrait of Mrs Ethel Solomon shows his work at a key transitional moment between his early Rembrandtesque manner and dark palette and his notable conversion to colour after 1911. Against a putty-coloured background, he uses a bolder, looser paint handling, picking out his young sitter’s fresh complexion, which contrasts with her fashionable black and white riding attire, offset by her mustard-yellow gloves.
Wolmark uses her dramatic pose as a compositional device to indicate her strong character. The portrait also relates specifically to Wolmark’s own later series of single-figure works including The Fencer (c.1914, current whereabouts unknown), which repeats the emphatic hand-on-hip gesture, and the Portrait of Dottie Konstam (aka Mrs. Alfred Kohnstamm, 1915, Private Collection), in which his female subject holding her parasol echoes the strong diagonal of Mrs Solomon grasping her riding crop. The work is boldly signed with an early version of Wolmark’s monogram.
Born in Edgbaston, the daughter of a draper, Mrs Ethel Solomon (née Cohen, 1888–1985), went on to become a highly influential figure. In 1920 she became Chair of the Women’s Federation of British Zionists and in 1939 she and her husband established Whittinghame Farm School to educate German and Austrian refugee children. Between 1943 and 1966, she was also Chair of Ben Uri.
Wolmark executed many portraits of Jewish sitters including a head of the writer Israel Zangwill (1925, Ben Uri Collection), known as the ‘Jewish Dickens’. The Ben Uri Collection also holds 13 of the 14 illustrations that formed frontispieces to the multi-volume edition of Zangwill’s work published in 1925, and an equally striking head-and-shoulders portrait of Mrs Herbert Cohen, which was presented to the collection by Mrs Ethel Solomon.