Jacob Kramer (1892-1962))

Jacob Kramer: Creativity and Loss

Jacob Kramer was a Ukrainian-born painter who spent almost all of his working life in Leeds.

He was born in the small town of Klincy in 1892, then part of the Russian Empire, into an artistic middle class Jewish family. His father, Max, was a painter who had studied at the St Petersburg Fine Art Academy under Ilya Repin, and had became a court painter to Baron Ginsburg. Kramer's mother, Celia, was a distinguished opera singer and authority on Slavonic folk-songs.

Following the accession of Tsar Nicholas II in 1894 a virulent anti-semitic policy was introduced to force Russian Jews either to assimilate or leave the country. The Kramers chose to leave Russia in 1900, emigrating to England and settling in Leeds which had a sizeable Jewish immigrant community. Here they lived in poverty, with Max Kramer taking work as a photographer's assistant.

Jacob attended Darley Street council school, where his talent was soon recognized, and he assisted his father in his photographic studio. In 1902, aged ten, he ran away to Liverpool and went to sea for six months.

In 1907 he attended evening classes at the Leeds School of Art and the following year he won a scholarship to study there full-time for three years. At this time he also became involved in the radical modernist organisation the Leeds Arts Club, which introduced him to the ideas of expressionist artists such as Wassily Kandinsky.

With a scholarship from the Jewish Educational Aid Society, Kramer was able to study at the Slade School of Art from 1913 to 1914. Here be befriended many leading artists of the day.

His father's death in 1915 caused Kramer to return to the family home in Beecroft Grove in Leeds. Financial necessity eventually impelled him to lay artistic experimentation to one side and to concentrate on more marketable naturalistic portraits.

After the demise of the Leeds Arts Club in 1923 he had numerous schemes to establish a new artistic meeting place in the city, almost all of which came to nothing. The great exception to this was the informal gathering called the Yorkshire Luncheon Club, which met regularly at Whitelock's public house in Leeds from the 1930s to the 1950s and to which some of the leading cultural figures of the time were invited as speakers.

Kramer died on 4 February 1962 and was buried in the Jewish cemetery at Gildersome.

The Tate, the Victoria & Albert Museum and the British Museum all hold examples of Kramer's work, but the most extensive collections can be found in Leeds at the Leeds City Art Gallery and Leeds University Art Gallery.

External Links

Wikipedia article on Jacob Kramer

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