Captured, three-quarters on, eyes turned towards the viewer, this is Gertler’s earliest known self-portrait drawing. His features are recognisable not only from subsequent self-portraits, but also from a series of family portraits carried out between 1908 and 1913, in which the family likeness is strongly discernible. His friend and fellow Slade student, Adrian Allinson, described Gertler possessing ‘good looks of an order that are usually described as “sweetly pretty”; but though his features were feminine in their delicacy of chiselling’, with his robust sense of humour and great powers of mimicry, he was ‘not in the least effeminate’. When Gertler was introduced to the collector Edward Marsh (Winston Churchill’s secretary) in 1913, Marsh likened him, in a letter to Rupert Brooke, to a ‘Lippo Lippi cherub’.
Drawn several months into his entry to the Slade, Quentin Bell later observed that ‘What the Slade could teach and what Gertler could so triumphantly learn’ was summed up in this early self-portrait. ‘Here was a young man who could do anything. He had taken something from the Pre-Raphaelites – to be more exact from Rossetti (he never quite forgot Rossetti) – and at the same time he had acquired a bold, sharp decisive use of line (observe the treatment of the nose) which comes from France, via the New English Art Club. It is precise and yet free, intelligent but nevertheless a little sentimental; in short it is all that a Slade drawing was supposed to be’.
We are very grateful to Sarah MacDougall for preparing this catalogue entry and also to Luke Gertler for his assistance with researching this work.