16 November 2019

Tales of the Viennese Jews:
2, a ‘positively rabbinic’
portrait of an Anglican dean

A portrait of Dean Viktor de Waal by Marie-Louise von Motesiczky (1979) in oil on canvas and on loan from Canterbury Cathedral to the Jewish Museum in Vienna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

The Tales from the Vienna Woods is a waltz by the composer Johann Strauss II (1825-1899), written just over a century and a half ago, in 1868. Although Strauss was baptised in the Roman Catholic Church, he was born into a prominent Jewish family. Because the Nazis had a particular penchant for Strauss’s music, they tried to conceal and even deny the Jewish identity of the Strauss family.

However, the stories of Vienna’s Jews cannot be hidden, and many of those stories from Vienna are told in the exhibits in the Jewish Museum in its two locations, at the Palais Eskeles on Dorotheergasse and in the Misrachi-Haus in Judenplatz.

Rather than describe both museums in detail in one or two blog postings, I have decided over the next few days or weeks to re-tell some of these stories, celebrating a culture and a community whose stories should never be forgotten.

One of the exhibitions in the Jewish Museum on Dorotheergasse tells the story of the Ephrussi family, who are descended from Chaim Ephrussi (1793-1864), also known as Joachim or Charles Joachim Ephrussi, who arrived in Odessa from Berdychiv in west Ukraine, around 1830, and soon had interests in the grain trade, banking and other businesses.

Joachim Ephrussi established his business interests in Vienna around 1856, and the family soon spread throughout the world, with strong business, commercial and cultural interests around the globe.

Charles Ephrussi began collecting Japanese art in the late 19th century … an exhibit in the Jewish Museum in Vienna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Charles Ephrussi began collecting Japanese art in the late 19th century. He acquired the now famous Netsuke collection from an art dealer in Paris in 1899, and gave it to his cousin Viktor Ephrussi in Vienna.

But the collection was confiscated by the Nazis in Vienna in 1938 and Viktor Ephrussi escaped from Vienna in March 1939, having been forced by the Gestapo to sign away his properties.

Viktor Ephrussi arrived in England, where his daughter, Elisabeth de Waal (1889-1991), had made her home. The family settled in Tunbridge Wells, and there Viktor died on 12 March 1945. In his will, he revoked signing away his properties in Vienna.

After her father’s death, Elisabeth de Waal made a new life for herself and her family in England, and she became a member of the Church of England when she married Hendrick de Waal. She died in Monmouth in 1991.

Their eldest son, the Very Revd Viktor de Waal, was ordained an Anglican priest and later became the Dean of Canterbury (1976-1986). He now works with refugees.

One of the portraits in the exhibition is a portrait of Dean de Wall by Marie-Louise von Motesiczky (1979) in oil on canvas and on loan from Canterbury Cathedral.

Dean de Waal says that when this portrait ‘was finished (and of course I had not been allowed to glimpse it before) was really very revealing. Though of a Christian clergyman, it shows my Jewish roots, to the extent that it appeared positively rabbinic.’

Meanwhile, Viktor Ephrussi’s Netsuke collection of Japanese art found its way back to Japan in 1950 when it was restored to his son Ignaz (Iggie) Ephrussi (1906-1994), who had moved to Tokyo in 1948, and who lived in Japan until he died in 1994.

The collection was brought to England by Elisabeth’s grandson, the English potter Edmund de Waal. He began to reconstruct the story of the Ephrussi family, which he tells in his book, The Hare with Amber Eyes.

A portrait of Thérèse Ephrussi (1851-1911), Madame Léon Fould, by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1880) in the Jewish Museum in Vienna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Other postings in this series:

1, the chief rabbi and a French artist’s ‘pogrom’

2, a ‘positively rabbinic’ portrait of an Anglican dean

3, portraits of two imperial court financiers

4, portrait of Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis

5, Lily Renée, from Holocaust Survivor to Escape Artist

6, Sir Moses Montefiore and a decorative Torah Mantle

7, Theodor Herzl and the cycle of contradictions

8, Simon Wiesenthal and the café in Mauthausen

9, Leonard Cohen and ‘The Spice-Box of Earth’

10, Ludwig Wittgenstein and his Jewish grandparents

11, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his Jewish librettist

12, Salomon Mayer von Rothschild and the railways in Vienna

13, Gustav Mahler and the ‘thrice homeless’ Jew

14, Beethoven at 250 and his Jewish connections in Vienna

15, Martin Buber and the idea of the ‘I-Thou’ relationship

16, Three Holocaust survivors who lived in Northern Ireland.

17, Schubert’s setting of Psalm 92 for the synagogue.

18, Bert Linder and his campaign against the Swiss banks.

19, Adele Bloch-Bauer and Gustav Klimt’s ‘Lady in Gold’.

20, Max Perutz, Nobel laureate and ‘the godfather of molecular biology’.

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