Saturday, 16 January 2016

Sydney Schiff, Patronage of the Arts, and English Institutionalised Antisemitism

These are interlocking themes: how Sydney Schiff used his inherited wealth to help artists, how he was considered a Jew even though his mother was English, he himself identified as Anglican, and how the English establishment and society has been scathingly dismissive of him and his achievements over the past one hundred years in a way that is antisemitic.
Sydney Schiff had a difficult relationship with his father, an outrageously successful Jewish-born financier of Triestine origin, who at the same time separated himself completely from these roots. His expectation ws that his son would follow in his footsteps, but like his father he was a rebel, but in a very different way. Alfred Schiff was a rebel in his personal life, Sydney was a rebel in rejecting high finance and the Stock Exchange, and pursuing instead his love of the arts, both in painting and in literature. This decision was complicated by the relationship with his mother, which was particularly close. His early marriage to a grasping young American without his parents' consent alienated him permanently from his mother, and her early death was blamed on him, and further damaged his relationship with his father. However, it was his father's generous financial support that allowed him to pursue his dream, though this was very much delayed until the divorce from his first wife after twenty years of unhappiness, and was only to flower when he met his muse, his second wife, Violet Beddington.
In pictorial and plastic arts Sydney Schiff's web spread wide. A mere list of names associated with Sydney gives an initial indication. Here are some in random order: Mark Gertler, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Isaac Rosenberg, Wyndham Lewis, Pablo Picasso, John Currie, Stanley Spencer, William Roberts, Giorgio de Chirico, Jacob Epstein, Eric Gill, Filippo Marinetti, Duncan Grant, Richard Eurich. Some he personally supported and encouraged, some he owned works produced by. In the field of literature, as a published author himself, he was associated with Edwin Muir, T. S. Eliot, Wyndham Lewis, Isaac Rosenberg, Katherine Mansfield, John Middleton Murry, Marcel Proust, James Joyce, the Sitwells, Edith, Osbert and Sacheverell, Hermann Hesse,  
[to be continued]

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