Head of Woman [Cecilia Kramer]

Illustration © The Estate of John David Roberts. Reproduced with the permission of the William Roberts Society. Catalogue information based on the catalogue raisonné by David Cleall. For this and full details of the exhibitions cited, see the links below. Any auction prices quoted may not include all fees and taxes, such as VAT and Artist's Resale Right charges.

Head of Woman [Cecilia Kramer]

Head of Woman [Cecilia Kramer] (aka Head of Old Woman), detail from Jewish Melody, 1920–21
Oil on canvas, 33.7 cm x 28.5 cm

Official UK records of her family are inconsistent, but it seems likely that Cecilia Kramer – the mother of William Roberts's wife, Sarah – was born in c.1870, into a Jewish family in Klintsy in what is now Ukraine, then the Chernigov province of Russia. Her maiden name is unknown, but her father was a farm bailiff. After her mother died, she found life with her father's new wife difficult and joined a small travelling opera company which was visiting the town. She gave up the stage when, in about 1891, she married Max Kramer (1863?–1916), a fellow Jew who is said to have been a pupil of the Russian artist Ilya Repin, but she retained a repertoire of operatic arias and Russian folk songs.
The Kramers' first child, the artist Jacob Kramer, was born in 1892, and between then and 1906 they went on to have a further seven children. For a time they lived in St Petersburg, where Max enjoyed the patronage of Horace Günzburg, 2nd Baron Günzburg, a member of an important Russian-Jewish family of bankers, philanthropists and patrons of the arts. Increasing anti-Semitism in Russia probably prompted them to emigrate. When they arrived in the UK is not clear: they do not appear in the 1901 England and Wales census, but their daughter Millie was born in February 1904 in Leeds, where Max found employment retouching photographs. At the time of the 1911 census they had five surviving children – Jacob, Leah, Sarah, Millie and Isaak; a further three had died. Cecilia herself died in Leeds in 1947.
This portrait appears to be a detail that has been cut from the large work Jewish Melody of 1920–21. According to the notes in the National Portrait Gallery 1984 catalogue (p. 18), Sarah Roberts remembered selling a portrait of Cecilia Kramer to Edward Marsh for £5, and was under the impression that the work was the portrait exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in 1984. However, it seems likely that it was in fact this work – known by the estate of Edward Marsh as Head of Old Woman – which was purchased by Edward Marsh, then being presented via the Contemporary Art Society to the Queensland Art Gallery in 1954.
PROVENANCE: Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane (acc. no. 1:0739).
EXHIBITION HISTORY: Venice 1932 (as Testa di vecchia donna)
Cf. Jewish Melody, 1920–21 and Cecilia Kramer 1925

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