John Henry Amshewitz
1882–1942 | British
Oil on canvas
The vivid imagination of the British artist John Henry Amshewitz comes to life in this monumental oil on canvas. Exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1912, Death’s Arrest is exemplary of his distinctive output, which is perhaps most closely aligned with the work of the American painter and illustrator Maxfield Parrish. They share an affinity for deeply saturated hues and neoclassical imagery, though Amshewitz's approach had a greater focus on allegorical figures than Parrish's more whimsical creations. The result is a work like Death's Arrest, which is equally thought provoking and aesthetically arresting.
In the large-scale scene, a young troubadour is shadowed by a cloaked figure representing death. Occupying the foreground is a court jester, cupid figure and young maiden — the presence of these figures is enigmatic as they float at the bottom of the canvas in a dreamlike haze. Set in the garden of a coastal villa, the work has the narrative quality of a fairy tale that is enhanced by it brilliant colors and magical luminosity. Large in size and theatrical in subject, it is one of Amshewitz's finest creations.
Born in Ramsgate, England, in 1882, John Henry Amshewitz was the son of a prominent rabbi. His talent as an artist was cultivated early, and he quickly gained the attention of the Royal Academy, winning a scholarship in 1902. During his time with the Academy, he studied under the great American artist John Singer Sargent, as well as Sir George Clausen and Solomon J. Solomon. Amshewitz earned a reputation for his large-scale murals, having won a major competition to paint four murals at the City Hall in Liverpool. However, he was also a prominent painter who exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy.
He eventually moved to South Africa, where he continued his work as both a muralist and a painter, leading many art historians to label him a South African artist. He would die there in 1942. Following his death, a commemorative exhibition of his work took place at Johannesburg City Hall. Today, his paintings can be found in a number of public collections, including the British Library (London), the Brighton and Hove Museum, the South Africa National Art Gallery (Cape Town), and the Johannesburg Art Gallery.
Canvas: 75 1/4" high x 55 1/4" wide
Frame: 87" high x 66 7/8" wide
Royal Academy, London, 1912, no. 349
Autumn Exhibition of Modern Art: The Forty-Second, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, October 5, 1912 - January 4, 1913
The Paintings of J.H. Amshewitz, R.B.A., London, 1951, by S.B. Amshewitz, p. 3