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December 9: Mark Gertler and D.H. Lawrence

Lawrence Bush
December 8, 2016
mark-gertler-merry-go-round-1916-1340216878_b Painter Mark Gertler, whose life, poverty, and death inspired at least three fictional characters -- the main protagonist of Gilbert Cannan’s novel Mendel, Herr Loerke in D. H. Lawrence’s Women in Love, and Gombauld in Aldous Huxley’s Crome Yellow -- was born in London on this date in 1891. Gertler, according to his biographer Sarah MacDougall, “spent his formative years in the poverty and unity of the Jewish community . . . [and] showed precocious artistic talent (making his first drawing at the age of 3).” With the help of artist William Rothenstein and the Jewish Educational Aid Society, Gertler was able to study at the Slade School of Fine Art, where he met Dora Carrington, a bohemian, bisexual artist with whom he (and several other men) would be obsessed throughout his life, which ended in suicide in 1939. (Carrington, too, would be a suicide.) Gertler was part of the leftwing community of pre-World War I London that included Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, E.M. Forster, Lytton Strachey, Bertrand Russell, D.H. Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield, Thomas Hardy, and numerous others. Gertler worked primarily as a portraitist and landscape painter, but found a more symbolic style in his anti-war “Merry-Go-Round” (1916, at right; Gertler was a conscientious objector), which Lawrence described as “the best modern picture I have seen: I think it is great and true. But it is horrible and terrifying.” “Newness doesn’t concern me. I just want to express myself and be personal... I don’t want to be abstract and cater for a few hyper-intellectual maniacs. An over-intellectual man is as dangerous as an over-sexed man. The artists of today have thought so much about newness and revolution that they have forgotten art.... Besides I was born from a working man. I haven’t had a grand education and I don’t understand all this abstract intellectual nonsense.” --Mark Gertler

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.