One of Oxfordshire’s best kept secrets, on the last Saturday of the month from April to November, the Oscar Nemon Studio Museum and Archive on Boars Hill celebrate the life and work of émigré sculptor Oscar Nemon with free visits. He came to Oxford in 1941 and remained until his death in 1985.
For 2022, the Oscar Nemon Studio Museum is featuring Dancing with Shadows, an exhibition of Nemon’s work of the 1940s, during which he would lose twenty-four members of his family to the Holocaust, including his mother, brother and grandmother.
With reference also to Nemon’s luminous and moving portraits of women – including Oxford history student Celia Cook, Headington musician Margaret Maitland, actor Florence Kahn, and friend Barbara Kitson – Dancing with Shadows explores how making art helped Nemon retain a connection with life even as darkness seemed to be closing around him.
It also allows visitors to examine the original materials of his wartime life. These include the Naturalisation Certificate of 1948, by which Nemon became a British Citizen, and portraits of his baby son Falcon. Falcon was born on 27 March 1941, the day that Hitler authorised the invasion of Yugoslavia, sealing the fates of Nemon’s relatives.
Alongside Dancing with Shadows, there’s a Platinum Jubilee Display in the Archive that pays tribute to Nemon’s decades of portraying Elizabeth II – from the portrait he created of her for Christchurch in 1961 onwards.
Showing a series of works in progress, alongside folders of Nemon’s original source materials of vintage magazine covers, historic photographs, and tear sheets from newspapers, the display is designed to help viewers become active participants in the work of making a portrait.
Viewers can also understand the stages with which Nemon built his understanding of his Royal sitter and found a way to represent her as both a living woman and a public symbol.
They first met when Elizabeth asked Nemon to create a bust of Churchill for Windsor Palace, and then again when he was asked to portray her as the ‘Visitor’ in Christ Church Hall, Oxford. Nemon received the commission in 1956 but only delivered the final bronze in 1961 after an interim model had been rejected. All parties were delighted with the final result.
The Oscar Nemon Studio Museum and Archive on Oxford’s Boars Hill is open this Saturday and on the last Saturday of the month until November 2022. Find out more.