Jewish artist to be put back in the frame

A Leeds couple is championing the talents of Philip Naviasky – who used to live in their house


A self-portrait of Philip Naviasky in his studio

A Jewish artist will have an exhibition of his work and a blue plaque on his former home in Leeds later this month, thanks to an art-loving couple who want to raise awareness of his work.

Philip Naviasky, who was born in Leeds in 1894 to Polish Jewish parents, won a scholarship to the Leeds School of Fine Art at the age of 13. He is believed to have been the youngest ever student of painting at Royal Academy Schools after being given a place there aged 18.

After winning a Royal Exhibition Award, Naviasky attended the Royal College of Art at 19 and exhibited at the Royal Academy Annual (now Summer) exhibitions 10 times between 1914 and 1954.

One of his finest works is Portrait of a Rabbi, 1912, first exhibited at the Ben Uri Gallery and Museum, and he also painted dignitaries including Sir Winston Churchill, Lord Nuffield and former UK prime minister Ramsay MacDonald.

Yet, despite being regarded as among the most technically accomplished modern British artists who worked outside of London, Naviasky, who died in 1983, has remained little known – a fact which Suzie and Richard Hamlin are aiming to change.

While his contemporaries, including Augustus John, gained fortune and fame working in London, Naviasky returned to Yorkshire after the First World War, taking up a post at Leeds College of Art, which could explain his slow emergence to renown in portraiture.

Suzie Hamlin, who owns a mural painting business with her husband, first came across Naviasky’s work when she and her family moved into the artist’s Leeds home in Chapel Allerton in 1996. She knew “immediately” that an artist had previously lived there.

“It was clear that there had been paintings on every wall, and there was an art studio in the back garden. It has such a personal connection for us because we so love art,” said Suzie, whose 15-year-old daughter is following Naviasky's path, having just been accepted into Leeds School of Art.

The couple, who aren’t Jewish, rebuilt the studio in the garden, and began to collect Naviasky’s works, two of which they bought for a few hundred pounds from a rug shop.

In February, Suzie and Richard showcased his work from Roundhay Park on the Antiques Roadshow. Later, they approached Leeds Civil Trust to tell Naviasky’s story and to apply for a blue plaque on their home to commemorate his work. The plaque will also refer to the artist's Jewish heritage.

The Hamlins' Naviasky exhibition at Left Bank Leeds - an accessible art space –  will showcase many of the artist’s paintings, contributed by collectors from all over the world. Dr Eva Frojmovic, an expert in Jewish history of art from the University of Leeds, will speak at the opening.

“He wasn't as famous as he should be and he was an incredible artist,” said Suzie. "One of his most famous paintings, of the rabbi, is absolutely amazing. You can see he was technically brilliant, but he used a more fluid style in many of his paintings. You can be absolutely brilliant at making something look photographically accurate, but less is more, and that flow is when you've really got the skill.”

She added that when the art dealer Philip Mould from the programme Fake or Fortune was selling one of Naviasky’s paintings on his website, he said that the artist is “coming late to greatness but it is well deserved”.

Said Suzie:“I would be delighted to see him become better known. And you only have to look at the images of his work to see that it still appears contemporary.”

The exhibition of Philip Naviasky’s is on May 23-31 at Left Bank Leeds. The opening event will be on May 22 from 6-9pm. Click here  for information and bookings.

The unveiling of blue plaque by Neville Lewis, Philip Naviasky’s great-nephew, is on May 24 at 4pm at 579 Scott Hall Road, LS7 2NF

There is a Crowdfunder site to raise the necessary funds for the plaque


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