Portrait of Sonia
In Portrait of Sonia, the poet-painter Isaac Rosenberg skilfully blends traditional and modern techniques to create a memorable portrait of the girl he loved. Sonia Joslen (née Cohen), a former sweatshop worker and aspiring actress, was then pregnant and living with Rosenberg’s Whitechapel friend, the modernist poet John Rodker.
Characterised by strong, broad vertical brushstrokes, the portrait’s vivid red background also recalls the colourist work of Alfred Wolmark. However, Rosenberg also clearly referenced Leonardo da Vinci’s The Virgin of the Rocks (National Gallery), writing to his patron Edward Marsh that he had ‘done a lovely picture I’d like you to see. It’s a girl who sat for Da Vinci, and hasn’t changed a hair since, in a deep blue gown against a dull crimson ground.’
Reluctant to finish it, Rosenberg worked on this portrait during his leave from First World War military service. He was killed in action in 1918.