Portrait of Orovida Pissarro
Austrian-born, Clara Klinghoffer grew up in East London, taking art classes at the John Cass Institute in Aldgate, supported by her family who were not well-off but recognised her precocious talent. Holding her first exhibition at the age of nineteen, she quickly established a reputation as the new ‘girl genius’, earning a coveted place to study at the progressive Slade School of Art (1919–21) for two years. Championed by ‘Whitechapel Boys’ Alfred Wolmark and Bernard Meninsky, her drawings, often studies of women and children, were frequently compared in the press to those of Raphael. The sculptor Jacob Epstein described her as ‘an artist of great talent, a painter of the first order. Her understanding of form places her in the very first rank of draughtsmen in the world’. Klinghoffer’s sister, Rose, also sat for them both.
Klinghoffer can lay claim to being a later ‘Whitechapel Girl’. She lived locally in Hackney until 1927, when she showed work in the Whitechapel Art Gallery exhibition of Jewish Art and Antiquities. She moved within East End Jewish and Yiddish social, literary and artistic circles, associating with a number of the Whitechapel Boys including Bomberg and Kramer.
In 1926 Klinghoffer showed at the prestigious Redfern Gallery, Women of Today praising her as ‘one of the greatest English women painters’. She married Dutch journalist Joop Stoppelman the following year and they moved to Holland with their daughter in 1929. In 1939, aware of the imminent threat of German invasion, the family settled in America. Klinghoffer subsequently split her life between London and New York, exhibiting with limited success in America during the 1950s and 1960s, her highly polished figurative works defiantly at odds with the prevailing trend towards Abstract Expressionism. In London, she showed with The London Group, New English Art Club and at the Royal Academy. In 1976 the Belgrave Gallery hosted a solo show.
Klinghoffer painted a number of celebrated sitters including Vivien Leigh as Shakespeare’s Cleopatra, and her friends Lucien and Orovida Pissarro. Her striking portrait of Orovida, Camille’s granddaughter, and herself an artist, presents Orovida as a series of ample forms including her rounded belly and face framed by her cropped pudding-basin hairstyle playfully echoed in the curves of the chair, the jug, plates, fruit and ornaments all forming a sinuous and slightly comical backdrop. The patterning of her kilt strikes a lone note of slightly controlled geometry.
Klinghoffer exhibited in Ben Uri’s first Annual Open Exhibition in 1935, among a strong representation by émigré artists. In October 1996 her work was featured at Ben Uri in Paintings Drawings and Sculpture by Austrian Artists Whose Lives Were Disrupted by the Holocaust, part of the Festival of Austrian-Jewish Culture. She is represented by six works in the Ben Uri Collection, all featuring single figures.