Ben Uri gallery buys 180-year-old painting by Solomon Hart, first Jewish member of Royal Academy

‘The Writing on the Wall’ was bought by the art museum at auction this week


The Ben Uri gallery has bought one of the earlist paintings by a British artist showing a synagogue interior.

The art gallery and museum purchased ‘The Writing on the Wall’, a watercolour by Solomon Alexander Hart, for £5,000 at an auction on Monday.

Hart was the first Jewish member of the Royal Academy, admitted in 1840.

David Glasser, chair of the Ben Uri, said the institution was “very excited” at having been able to acquire the work, praising Hart as the “pre-eminent Jewish artist of his day".

“We place it from 1837-1838, most likely of the Polish Synagogue then sited in Gun Yard off Houndsditch in the East End of London,” he said.

Last year the Ben Uri, which was founded to showcase Jewish artists' work, announced it would rededicate itself to the art of immigrants of all faiths and nationalities and would sell more than 700 artworks, including works by Jewish artists such as David Bomberg and Mark Gertler.

The plan prompted 11 of the Ben Uri's 26 members on its International Advisory Panel to resign, calling it a “grave mistake” and describing the works sold off as making up “the very heart of the Ben Uri collection”.

Mr Glasser responded at the time by saying that while he respected the views of the eleven in question, “the seven strong Ben Uri management and trustee team fundamentally disagree.”

He also rejected the suggestion that the works being sold represented the heart of the collection, saying that view "is simply long out of date”.

He called Hart's painting “a perfect example of the benefit to our museum of de-accessioning works rarely if ever seen and qualitatively improving the collection with works which are clearly preeminent in their field.”

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