Born Dortmund, Germany
Died London, England
Benno Elkan studied languages in Lausanne before becoming a merchant in Antwerp. He moved to Munich to study painting at the Academy, then to Karlsruhe to study sculpture, before visiting Paris, where he encountered Rodin and Matisse, and finally Rome. Elkan married the daughter of a Rabbi, pianist Hedwig Einstein, and they later moved to Frankfurt am Main with their children. Following Hitler's accession to the Chancellorship and the introduction of anti-Semitic legislation, the couple immigrated to London in 1933 and Elkan's work was included in his absence in the notorious 'Entartete Kunst' ('Degenerate Art') exhibition launched in Munich in July 1937. Elkan also showed three works (heads of Prince Edward, Toscanini and the German-Jewish art dealer, Alfred Flechtheim) in the exhibition 'Twentieth Century German Art', designed as a riposte to the Nazi show, which opened in July 1938 at the New Burlington Galleries in London.
Elkan created the first statue in Britain of Sir Walter Raleigh, and designed Frankfurt’s Great War Memorial, which included mourning mothers as a symbol of loss in the First World War (removed by the Nazis in 1933, it was re-erected in 1946). Elkan's sculpture included lifelike busts of recognised artists and politicians, but he also created works deriving from religious stimuli; the Knesset Menorah in Jerusalem features engravings of biblical themes and significant events from the history of the Jewish people. His Old Testament and New Testament Candelabra incorporating around 80 figures, were donated by Arthur Hamilton Lee (1868-1947) to Westminster Abbey in 1939 and 1942.
Object type sculpture
Acquisition Presented from the Estate of Brian Sewell, 1918
Accession number 2018-30
Display status not on display
The late art historian Brian Sewell (1931- 2015), from whose estate this piece has been presented, knew the sculptor during his exile in England and later devoted an essay to his work. Sewell suggests that Elkan’s experience of exile in England pushed him into becoming ‘essentially, a Jewish sculptor of historic Jewish subjects’. This maquette is for one of the series of bronze reliefs depicting the struggles of the Jewish people that Elkan modelled for The Knesset Menorah, located at the edge of Gan Havradim (Rose Garden) opposite the Knesset and presented as a gift from the Parliament of the United Kingdom on April 15, 1956, in honour of the eighth anniversary of Israeli independence.