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Rose Henriques, Artist

July 17, 2021
by the gentle author

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Rose Henriques is featured in EAST END VERNACULAR, Artists Who painted London’s East End Streets in 20th Century which is included in the sale.


La Toilette, 1930


At first glance, Rose Henriques’ La Toilette might appear to make a modernist statement about residents confined within uniformly repetitive architecture. But a second look reveals the feisty washerwomen consumed with their energetic task, bringing colour and life to an otherwise restricted world.

Rose Loewe (1889–1972) was born into a prominent Jewish family in Stoke Newington and was gifted musically and artistically. She studied piano in Breslau but, returning to England in 1914, she met Basil Henriques at Oxford and chose to forsake her artistic ambition for a life of altruistic endeavour. She served as a nurse at Liverpool Street Station in the First World War and then as an ambulance driver and air-raid warden, based in Cannon Street Road in the Second World War.

Basil persuaded Rose to join him as his deputy in establishing a Jewish boys’ club in the East End and, after they married in 1916, she ran a girls’ club in parallel until Basil went off to serve as a soldier. She then took charge of the whole endeavour, while also working as a nurse at night. After the war, she and Basil managed a settlement in Berners Street (later known as Henriques Street in their honour), pursuing philanthropic work among the Jewish community for more than half a century in Stepney, where Rose became widely known as ‘the Missus’.

She was a keen self-taught artist and in the midst of a busy life she produced a significant body of work that complemented her social concerns, exhibiting first at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1934, followed by two large solo shows, Stepney in War & Peace in 1947 and Vanishing Stepney in 1961.

Her early spirited oil paintings, La Toilette of 1930 and Coronation Celebrations in Challis Court of 1937 are heartfelt responses to the vigorous community life she encountered in the East End. Yet the tone changed in the forties, with watercolours in a reportage style documenting the appalling destruction and human cost of the blitz that she experienced at first hand.

In August 1945, Rose led one of the first teams of nurses and social workers to enter the Belsen death camp, working to support the rehabilitation of survivors and refugees until 1950.

Formally, Rose & Basil retired from the Berners Street settlement in 1947 but they continued to live there and contribute to its management for the rest of their lives, with Rose taking over the presidency after Basil’s death in 1961.

Rose’s watercolour of 1951, Fait Accompli, is redolent of the optimistic mood of the postwar years and the hopeful ideal of a better life for all.

Newly-built council housing replaces bomb sites and the local community – which appears to include some of the women from La Toilette – can enjoy the conveniences of a modern home, and are spared having to do the washing in the backyard.


Coronation Celebrations in Challis Court, 1937

Nine O’Clock News, The Outbreak of War

The New Driver, Ambulance Station, Cannon St Rd

Next Day, Watney St Market, 1941

Bombed Second Time, The Foothills, Tilbury & Southend Railway Warehouses, 1941

Dual Purpose, School Yard in Fairclough St, Tilbury & Southend Railway Warehouses, forties

Line outside Civil Defence Shelter, Turner St, 1942

Stepney Green Synagogue, forties

The Brick Dump, Exmouth St, forties

Club Row Animal Market Carries On, 1943

Fait Accompli, Berner St, 1951

Archive images courtesy Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives



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10 Responses leave one →
  1. Saba permalink
    July 17, 2021

    I am so inspired by this accomplished woman. Her early oil paintings, in a style all her own, showed such promise, so, while I am glad that she documented the blitz in watercolor, I wish she could have continued the oil paintings also. Her other philanthropic administrative work shows a great love for the people of her community. Wow! Thank you for bringing this to us.

  2. July 17, 2021

    Rose Henriques’s paintings from the war period are very impressive. Even to make watercolors during the bombing of London is an achievement that should be appreciated.

    Love & Peace

  3. Richard Smith permalink
    July 17, 2021

    I very much enjoyed Rose Henriques’s paintings this morning. Thank you for showing them to us.

  4. Peter Hart permalink
    July 17, 2021

    I have the East End Vernacular book. Brilliant. Definitely recommend it.

  5. paul loften permalink
    July 17, 2021

    My mother was an air raid warden in Stoke Newington . I have a photo of her in her black uniform doing a knees up with her friends . I wonder if she knew this remarkable woman ?

  6. Mark permalink
    July 17, 2021

    Just the tonic on a Saturday morning.
    Ivocative studies.

  7. Adele Lester permalink
    July 17, 2021

    As well as being an accomplished artist – I love her style and EastEnd depiction – she was a lovely lady. She gave so much of herself to the community. Never to be forgotten by those of us privileged to have known her.

  8. July 17, 2021

    What an amazing, inspirational woman and what a wonderful contribution she and her husband made to the lives of people in the East End and elsewhere.
    A life well lived indeed.
    Her paintings are wonderful.

  9. Kelly Holman permalink
    July 18, 2021

    A wonderful piece, thank you. To read of Rose’s life, her talent and dedication to making the world a better place, was very moving. She engaged with such difficult and traumatic situations.
    I love her art and look forward to seeing more pictures from East End artists in the East End Vernacular Book that I have just bought myself as a treat.
    Thank you again.

  10. July 18, 2021

    What an inspirational woman. So talented, and compassionate too

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