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Nathaniel Kornbluth, Artist

August 7, 2017
by the gentle author

Today I present another extract from my new book EAST END VERNACULAR, Artists who painted London’s East End streets in the 20th century to be published by Spitalfields Life Books in October. Click here to preorder your copy

Butchers’ Row, Aldgate, 1934

This view was a familiar one for Nathaniel Kornbluth (1914–97) because he spent his working life running the family menswear business at 56 Whitechapel High St, just a few hundred yards away. As a child of Polish immigrants, Nathaniel found his aspirations to an artistic career were discouraged, yet he proved himself a loyal son by devoting himself to the wholesale clothing trade by day, while taking evening classes in printmaking at night.

Nathaniel learnt the techniques of etching at classes at Hackney Technical School in the thirties and then came under the influence of some of the most important printmakers of his time at the Central School of Arts & Crafts in the forties.

While Nathaniel’s choice of medium and subject matter display an awareness of Whistler, a distinctly twentieth century expressionist influence may also be perceived in the moody atmosphere that prevails. His prints reveal an artist of superlative technical accomplishment, with a rigorous quality of draftsmanship, a commanding sense of space and a subtle appreciation of the grim utilitarian beauty of the working city, especially the riverside.

During the thirties, Nathaniel first exhibited his etchings at the East End Academy at the Whitechapel Gallery, which was situated directly across the road from his family business. Subsequently, his prints were purchased for major collections both nationally and internationally, and he was holding solo exhibitions of new work until the nineteen-eighties.

Although Nathaniel sought subject matter all over the capital, his intricately detailed representations of the London Docks in particular survive as an invaluable record of a lost industry.

Limehouse Cut, 1935-6

Lovell’s Wharf, Greenwich, 1932

Regent’s Canal, Stepney, 1934

Junk Shop, Limehouse, 1935

Butcher’s Row & Limehouse Cut courtesy of Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives

Take a look at some of the other artists featured in East End Vernacular

John Allin, Artist

Pearl Binder, Artist

Dorothy Bishop, Artist

Roland Collins, Artist

Anthony Eyton, Artist

Doreen Fletcher, Artist

Barnett Freedman, Artist

Lawrence Gowing, Artist

Harry T. Harmer, Artist

Elwin Hawthorn, Artist

Rose Henriques, Artist

Charles Ginner, Artist

Dan Jones,  Artist

Leon Kossoff, Artist

James Mackinnon, Artist

Jock McFadyen, Artist

Cyril Mann, Artist

Ronald Morgan, Artist

Grace Oscroft, Artist

Peri Parkes, Artist

Henry Silk, Artist

Harold & Walter Steggles, Artists

Albert Turpin, Artist

9 Responses leave one →
  1. Jim McDermott permalink
    August 7, 2017

    Lovely, atmospheric work.

  2. August 7, 2017

    Nathaniel’s work is wonderful, I have always been fascinated by his atmospheric pictures. Valerie

  3. August 7, 2017

    I can’t wait to see more of Nathaniel’s work in the book!

  4. Helen Breen permalink
    August 7, 2017

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, these drawings are beautiful. Effective rendering of nighttime in “Lovell’s Wharf” and “Butchers’ Row.”

    The figures in “Junk House, Limehouse” are so relaxed and realistic. Today we might call the establishment an antique shop or boutique.

  5. August 7, 2017

    So evocative! It is easy to fall under the spell of the landscapes……so skillfully rendered…..however, look at the subtleties in the final image of the threesome in front of the junk shop. The narrative mystery that unfolds between the laconic standing male figure and the female next to him who leans a bit. She seems to pose and tilt just a bit, as if she is pretending to view the goods in the shop. Almost like she is conducting a little vanity performance, while the street-savvy man glances over, half-curious and mostly-cynical. The gent in the chair observes……maybe even the shopping-weary husband of the lady? The open shop is a stage setting, and the figures are the players. So much to consider, thanks to Nathaniel.

  6. Sue permalink
    August 7, 2017

    Love the light that is in the night time ones.

  7. August 8, 2017

    The Limehouse ones are particularly appealing to me. Limehouse cut is technically brilliant and The junk shop is like a scene from Dickens. I really enjoyed reading Lynne P’s comments on it.

  8. David Kornbluth permalink
    June 27, 2019

    Who are you?

  9. Ruth Muller permalink
    October 1, 2019

    I have a lithograph that Nat Kornbluth did on the spot when the International Brigade returned to London from Spain in December 1938. He gave it to my father Sam (a Brigader) who’d been his friend when they were growing up. It’s also very evocative.

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