CYRIL J ROSS (B.1891) MY PEOPLE
Central piece: 182×257.5cm.; 71¾x101in
Outer pieces both: 182×91.5cm.; 71¾x36in.
Signed and indistinctly dated 1943
Oil on board, laid on panel, in three parts, unframed
The painting is dedicated to the millions of my people martyred in the greatest racial persection in Jewish history.
The accompanying booklet, List of Portraits, My People, Oil Painting 16ft x 7ft by Cyril J Ross, lists the sitters portrayed in the painting. The numbered key to the portraits is shown on a drawing, inset in the middle of the booklet, illustrating the position of each portrait. The booklet is annotated, I believe by ‘J Browning’ who has signed the first page alongside the date ‘1971’.
The painting here represents a portrait gallery exemplifying some aspects of the Jewish contribution to the civilisation of the world, and particularly to the life of this country, over a period of many centuries. There may be seen in it the likenesses (in most cases based on authentic records) of men and women who have distinguised themselves in every branch of beneficent human activity – science, medicine, poetry, art, music, literature, acting, jurisprudence, philanthropy, economics, statesmanship, ethics, religion, philosophy, industry, and much else besides. There are included in the painting some 900 portraits, but very many more could have been added had space permitted.
The Hanging Committee in the foreground are depicted as preparing an exhibition of paintings dealing with the present war, in which Jews have played their part on all battlefields and suffered untold grief in Nazi and Occupied Territory. Descriptive titles of these token paintings are given on p.23.
The criterion used to decide who is a Jew and who is not, in the case of persons of mixed descent, has been that adopted by those who in our own day have brought Jewish persecution to a new pitch of inhumanity.
If any branches may be singled out from the rest, in which the Jewish representation as shown here is particularly marked, they are medicine and philanthropy (in its widest sense). The deduction to be drawn from this fact is left to others.
When he painted My People Ross was living at Cavesham Hill. Every Saturday Ralph Errmann, then a 17 year old student, worked for Mr Ross looking through encyclopedias and books for information and images on the people depicted in the picture so that they would be based on authentic records. I have tracked down Mr Errmann and he has been able to help me with some of this information. According to Mr Errmann, Cyril Ross always said that the ‘List of Portraits’ was the most important thing, more important than the picture itself.
The front page of the booklet shows that the picture was originally framed, the frame has since been removed.
The picture hung in the dining hall at Carmel College, a Jewish boarding school in the Maidstone area, I have been told for 10 years, but I do not know the dates. Carmel College was founded by Rabbi Dr Kopul Rosen in 1948 and closed in 1997. Approximately 4,000 students attended the school for some period of time, nearly a third of them from all over the world. Mr Rosen was the last Rabbi, and I am trying to make contact so that I can find out more.
CYRIL JOSHUA ROSS R.O.I., N.S.P.S.P (British 1891-1973)
A Londoner by birth, businessman by profession and artist by inclination.
Cyril Joshua Ross was a member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters and the National Society for Painters and Sculptors. He also exhibited at the Royal Academy, the Gallery of Royal Society of Painters in Water-Colours, the Royal Institue Galleries, the Ben Uri Art Gallery, the Cooling Galleries, The Brook Street Art Gallery & The Whitechapel Art Gallery. In addition to his one man shows, his work also appeared in exhibitions up and down the country. The Ben Uri Gallery, The London Jewish Museum of Art, is Britain’s oldest Jewish cultural organization and has some of his work in their collection.
Ross was a prominent businessman, the Chairman of Swears & Wells. He was a member of the Ben Uri Society, and Treasurer for many years. He was self-taught, inspired to start painting at the age of 40 while watching an artist paint a portrait of his wife. From then on his leisure hours were filled with painting expressing himself in rich colours with the dexterity of a master. ‘My paintings which gave me many years of enjoyable recreation and provided an escape from the daily toil of industry. I have occupied my leisure hours and found my work wholly stimulating and gratifying.’
‘It is impossible for an artist to fail to express in his production something at least of the external circumstances that influence his mind during the time he was at work. During these fateful years, it has been impossible for any person endowed with normal sympathies and susceptibilities not to be pre-occupied by the outbreak of barbarism over a large portion of the world’s surface, and by the recrudescence of mediaeval bigotry which has reduced hundreds and thousands of men and women in Central Europe to the position of outcasts, without rights of expression, of property, or of security, for no fault other than their origin and their faith. A certain unity is given to the first part of the paintings here shown by their preoccupation above all with this tragedy. But it is a tragedy which is perhaps greater for those who perpetrate it than for those who suffer from it. The suffering which has been caused during the past few years is incalculable; but, in the long run, unrighteousness cannot prevail. These paintings do not express any feeling of vindictiveness or any cry for vengeance, but only the hope that the time is not distant when the spirit of justice will once more be established on earth, even in those lands where it is now momentarily obscured.’ CJR, Foreword, Cooling Gallery Exhibition 1938.
The paintings dealing with the period immediately prior to the war and then the conflict itself are poignant and moving and told the story at the time.
Cyril Ross was very interested in philanthropic work, and derived huge pleasure from dedicting the proceeds from his Solo Exhibitions and sale of pictures to good causes in his quest to benefit others.
‘Painting for relaxation and enjoyment has brought me the deep satisfaction of self-expression and, in later years, the additional pleasure of seeing my efforts of benefit to various worthy causes. Reviewing my work in this my ninth one-man show (1954), I am reminded of the deep feelings that urged me at different periods to paint my various pictures and help to explain the changes in both mood and style. Joy of Life, the Tragedy of War, Colour in the Every-day Scene, People’s Sadness, have absorbed my whole concentration in turn…. Here in conclusion, may I be permitted to make a practical suggestion to all who kindly visit my show; that as so many drab walls exist in Charitable Institutions, a two-fold purpose can be served by presenting pictures to Institutions in which one has a special interest’. CJR, Foreword, Exhibition at the Royal Institute Galleries, 1954.
Works shown in Public Institutions
The Royal Academy Exhibition, 1940 Nazi Persecution & Sacrilege, A.D. 1939
Dedicated to the Peace Conference (345)
The Royal Academy Exhibition 1941 The Promised Land (247)
The Ben Uri Collection Portrait of Alfred Wolmark (344)
Solo Exhibitions by the artist
1938 The Cooling Galleries Proceeds to Specified Charities
1940 The Cooling Galleries Proceeds to Anglo-French Ambulance Corps & General Porter’s Benevolent Association
1944 The Brook Street Art Gallery Proceeds to Specified Charities
1945 The Whitechapel Art Gallery Proceeds to East End Charities
1946 The Cooling Galleries Proceeds to Victory (Ex-Services) Club
1947 The Ben Uri Art Gallery Proceeds to Deserving Causes
1951 MM.Bernheim-Jeune, Paris For Public Exhibition (Abroad)
1952 Gallery of Royal Society of Proceeds to Artist’s General Benevolent
Painters in Water-Colours Institution, Victory (Ex Services) Club,Youth Organisations & The Purley Schools
1954 The Royal Institute Galleries Institutions for the Blind, The Victory (Ex-Services) New Memorial Hall
1968 The Ben Uri Art Society Not yet known
1972 The Ben Uri Art Society Not yet known
Dictionary of British Artist working 1900-1950
ROSS, Cyril Joshua, ROI., NS (born 1891)
Oil painter born in London. Exhibited at the R.A., R.W.S. and other leading galleries. Lives in London.
Jewish Artists, The Ben Uri Collection, No 344 Portrait of Alfed Wolmark.
This is very much in its infancy. I am in contact with Ben Uri, the Jewish Museum in London, the Royal Academy, the Tate, the Imperial War Museum, the National Art Library, the Israel Museum, Jersualem.
I have not been able to see copies of his Solo Exhibition catalogues for 1940 and directly relevant to this picture 1944, 1945, 1946 & 1947. In the foreword of the booklet the artist refers to’ the painting here exhibited’. I have not yet been able to discover which of these Solo Exhibitions Ross is alluding to.
This post was written by joecollinson