East London Group

Henry Silk: 25/12/1883 to 21/09/1948

Henry was born in 1883 and little is known of his family life or early years. During WW1 Henry served in the trenches, sketching or drawing on any materials that came to hand but, sadly, like so many of his contemporaries he was gassed which had a lasting effect on him when he returned to civilian life. He was a basket-maker by trade and he worked for his uncle, Abraham Silk who had a shop at 226 Bow Road. Henry was a bachelor and after WW1 he did not return to live with his mother but went instead to live with his sister and her family in Rounton Road, Bow where he rented one of their three bedrooms which is where many of his intimate pictures were painted. Henry’s sister was Elwin Hawthorne’s mother!

Henry attended the art classes in Bow with his nephew, Elwin Hawthorne, and exhibited at the Bethnal Green Men’s Institute show in 1927 and he contributed twelve pieces to the East London Art Club exhibition at the Whitechapel in 1928, three of which were then shown the National Gallery, Millbank in early 1929. He was a prolific contributor to the Group shows at Alex. Reid and Lefevre from 1929 to 1936 where his work always attracted high praise and critical acclaim. His work was acquired for the national collection at Doncaster Museum and also the Public Art Gallery in Toledo, Ohio.

In his day Henry was described by one art critic as potentially the most unique talent in British art at the time. His work found many buyers like Sir Joseph Duveen and Charles Aitken at the time and he had a one man show at Walter Bull and Sanders in Cork Street in 1931. Today his work is keenly sought after with modest sized watercolours commanding high prices: their detail and intimacy seeming to inspire affection amongst collectors far and wide.

Henry Silk photo in kitchen

Henry Silk in the kitchen at Rounton Road in Bow which was the Hawthorn family home. The lady in the photo is Henry's sister, Ellen, who was Elwin Hawthorne's Mother. Gassed during World War One, and having suffered intolerable experiences in the trenches, Henry moved in to live with his sister and her family rather than return home to his Mother.

My Lady Nicotine,Henry Silk

This is My Lady, Nicotine. The small figurine, on the mantlepiece in the black and white photo above, features here in the centre of the painting. Surrounding it on the table are several objects that also appear in the photo including the tin mug and the candle-holder.