We are at the last episode of our investigation into Anthony Rosenbaum's painting of 1880, and we are going to meet the artist himself, and put him on the record. Definitively. He turns out to have been a figure of some minor celebrity in the Victorian chess world. And some minor controversy, too.
First though, and for the last time, let's have another look at his tableau, in all its glory...
|© National Portrait Gallery.|
For identification see here or here.
...and now let's have a close look at Mr Rosenbaum; at his self-portrait to begin with - it works better in black and white.
As we are at the end of the series, it would be kind of appropriate to start our examination of Rosenbaum with his: on the 26th April 1888 in the Hospital for Paralysis in Regent's Park. The National Probate Calendar said he was "formerly of 87 Guilford Street but late of 39 Bernard Street, Russell Square" and his personal estate was £132.11s.6d - maybe £13K now (which is, maybe, not a lot).
There were two obituaries, possibly both by Leopold Hoffer (no 23 in the key in episode 5
, sixth from the right in tier 2). The first to appear was in the chess column of The Field
on 5 May 1888 and is shorter. It provides a useful summary of the main features of his life, and we'll use that as a guide. The other was in The Chess-Monthly
in June 1888, and is reproduced, for the record, in Appendix A below.
The Field starts by noting that he had been "an esteemed member of St. George's and British Chess Clubs". The Chess Monthly obit., perhaps written for a more specialist chess readership, added that he had been "connected with English chess for over twenty years"; and that would get us back to the late 1860s. This second obit. mentions additionally the ticklish matter of the West End Chess Club, of which Rosenbaum had been secretary, but let's put that on the back-burner for the moment.
Prior to all this, the earliest trace of Rosenbaum that I have found is the 1851 census record mentioned in episode 1
. He was then living in Kingston-upon-Hull, already age 22, having been born in Hamburg. There was a direct steam-ship line between the two ports as the first leg of an emigration route to North America. Perhaps that's where his ambitions ultimately lay, but he decided to test the waters in England first. He already saw himself as an artist, though the no-nonsense Census enumerator put him down as "a painter". He appeared to be lodging, with other German tenants, at an address that, according to the Hull local history people, no longer exists. Interestingly, our chess history colleagues in Yorkshire
say that Hull had a chess club as early as 1842, and that the Yorkshire County Association met in Hull in 1852. So, if Rosenbaum was looking for a game downtown in 1851, he might have been able to find one (for more on early provincial chess clubs see here
I can't find him in any other census until 1881 when, described now as an "artist", he was a lodger at 9 Howland Street, St Pancras, where one of the other tenants was given the same profession. Rosenbaum was unmarried, and was put down (slightly inconsistently) as now age 50.
As for his over-the-board chess, it seems to have been almost exclusively as a casual, social player, maybe in internal club competitions, but not in open-entry tournaments. I can find no mention of any competition results for him in the chess press. The earliest mention otherwise that I have found is in the Illustrated London News of 18 July 1974, when Johannes Zuckertort gave a blindfold simul against "ten strong amateurs" at the CLCC. "After a late sitting all the games were adjourned"; so at least AR didn't disgrace himself and have to take an early bath, though he did eventually lose (JZ +5; =4; -1 to Mr Coburn, who appears in Rosenbaum's pic behind Steinitz and Hoffer). This is the same year that, according to The Chess-Monthly reporting later in 1880, he started the first version of his chess painting intended as a prize for a tournament of the City of London Club, so he was associated with that club as well, and must have been well established in London by then.
There is another mention of him, on 9th August 1875 in the Morning Post's report of one Mr Gastineau's (he was a prominent office-holder in the City of London CC) annual "garden parties for chess players" at his "residence in the pleasant suburb of Peckham" when "the 'beneficial' sun smiled upon a gallery of some forty chess players...several interesting games were played notably one between Messrs. Chappell and Down in consultation against Dr Ballard and Mr Rosenbaum...". The result is not given. This photo from Sergeant shows the 1873 party, before they'd thought of saying "cheese". Mine host is bearded and seated in the centre, with Steinitz on his right, and an uncommonly youthful looking, and tall, Blackburne towering to his left.
|From Sergeant (1934)|
BTW the elegant young gent on the far right is not identified by Sergeant, but I wonder if anyone shares my speculation that it might be a 26 year old Wordsworth Donisthorpe
(who we examined last week) posing with a familiar cigar - not, though, the Devon Chess Association, who have already made a pitch for Carslake Winter-Wood
(1849-1924); and, looking again, maybe 'The Adonis' was more generously endowed chin-wise, hirsute or no.
Back to AR's chess, alas invariably on the losing end. For example the Chess Player's Chronicle, for October 1878, reports that "Mr. Gumpel's 'Mephisto' is now installed at the Westminster Aquarium...among those who have yielded to Mephisto's prowess...are Col. Minchin, A. Rosenbaum, and A. Burn of Liverpool." But the same issue tempers the disappointment of defeat with the promise of a decent dinner.
"The undermentioned gentlemen having arranged to give a complimentary dinner to Dr. J.H.Zukertort, winner of the first prize in the International Paris Tournament, sincerely trust they may have the benefit of your support... [names of 15 gents, including]... A.Rosenbaum... The dinner will take pace at 7.p.m. on the 14th November, at the Criterion Restaurant, and tickets £1 1s each may be obtained of C.G.Gumpel... Dr.W.R.Ballard jun... J.I.Minchin... A. Rosenbaum, 12 Percy-street, Bedford-square. An early application for tickets is requested."
Rosenbaum was in good form at the nosh-up itself, The Chess Players Chronicle reporting that he "proposed very humorously" a toast to the Chess Clubs of England - with some intentional irony perhaps with the West End Chess Club debacle fresh in the memory.
It is telling, by the way, that the various London addresses, Percy Street for example, that have turned up for Rosenbaum are all in, or around, the central Fitzrovia-cum-Bloomsbury district, a mixed area of lodgings, tenements and workshops, with a shifting, diverse population including impoverished and itinerant artists, all cheek by jowl with elegant Georgian Squares. It would appear that Rosenbaum couldn't afford upmarket Mayfair in the style of the Ballards, nor the new middle class suburbs favoured by Blackburne, Tinsley, Gastineau and friends.
Schmoozing at the centre of the chess confraternity is what he seemed to do best, as a facilitator rather than a player. T
his role, on the organisational side of the chess world of the time, would bring him his finest hour in 1883. Let's note the excellent chess-company he kept: for example partnering H. E. Bird in an informal Four-handed Chess Match at the British Chess Association meeting in June 1885 in which games were played on "ingeniously contrived" tables (said The Standard
, 24 June; HEB & AR lost); and joining our old friends Newnes and Donisthorpe inter alia
at yet another banquet, at the BCA in December 1887 (Morning Post
On his chess exploits your Google searches may turn up this game
losing to Tarrasch in 1883, but its more likely to be H.O.Rosenbaum
, another German, and older, I would guess. Related? Who knows, I wouldn't know where to start to find out; and anyway it's not an uncommon name.
You might also discover Rosenbaum's chess problems, at which, the obit. says, "he enjoyed a wide reputation as a composer of more than average originality". MESON
has a half a dozen of them, published mainly in The Chess-Monthly
- at a time when (as we've noted before) chess problem-ing was maybe more popular, exalted, and contested in the chess community than now.
Here is one of Rosenbaum's efforts.
The Chess Monthly October 1879
Mate in 2.
I'll leave you to work it out, and to judge whether he had "more than average originality", or whether the obituary was, in eulogy-mode, observing the normal courtesies, and not speaking ill etc (solution immediately after the text jump, should you need it).
The obituary then refers to Rosenbaum "as an artist of the well-known oil painting representing a numerous group of eminent chess players" - which may well flatter some of the 47, chess-wise - and brings us on to AR's other artistic output. Here your blogger admits defeat. I have scoured the artistic sources for reference to him, but found nothing: Royal Academy listings, National Art Library and its extensive resources including Art Auction websites. I have contacted the major, and historic, London art dealer Agnew's, which opened in London the 1860s. Zilch.
There is but one reference in the chess literature of the day to his art: in Minchin's account of the 1883 International London Tournament, where (said The Chess-Monthly obit) AR "took an active part as one of the organisers...the success of which was, in no small degree, due to his energetic efforts as the Director of Play..." and, according to Minchin:
"for a period of two months Mr. Rosenbaum abandoned his own avocation as an artist, and was compelled in consequence to give up one valuable commission for a portrait..."
As far as his artistic achievements are concerned, that is it. Perhaps a reader has a Rosenbaum portrait of a far-off relative on the wall, or more likely, in the attic.
Talking art for a moment, here is a another confirmed image of Rosenbaum, top right in these portrait character sketches in the Illustrated London News of May 5 1883
|via Wilson A Picture History of Chess (1981) |
Click to enlarge
Compare this, crop for crop, with Rosenbaum's self-portrait.
|Rosenbaum in 1883 (left), and 1880 or earlier (right)|
The 1883 Corbould character-sketch is of Rosenbaum a few years older than would have been in the 1880 painting. Indeed, the painted self-portrait could be a few years younger still, perhaps even before his illness some time in the 1870s. This might explain the suggestion of older gauntness and hair loss in the sketch. But what it doesn't explain is the difference in the profile of his hooter, his conk, or in this context, his schnozzle. Was Corbould, on the left, exaggerating, and defaulting to conventional representation of the Jewish countenance, or was Rosenbaum, on the right, giving himself a nose job so as to assimilate to supposed local acceptability? Either way: it's a nice case study of in-group, out-group stereotyping.
Rosenbaum's role in the 1883 International Tournament
in London, won by Zukertort ahead of Steinitz, Blackburne et al
, seemed to seal his reputation. Bird was complimentary in a speech at the tournament banquet, and James Minchin wrote that his "intervention...secured the Victoria Hall in the Criterion...at a moderate rental...which afforded ample accommodation..." for players and "the large body of spectators" alike, and he carried out "all the arrangements connected with the fitting up of the Hall and the superintendence of the play", moreover his influence secured unprecedented coverage for the Tournament in the press (C-M
obit); to which we should add his devoted attention to the needs of the international cast of players, both at the board, and off it. He himself made the Times, on the 23 May 1883, when it reported that "there will be no play today, as Mr Rosenbaum
will take the foreign competitors to Epsom to witness the Derby".
Minchin gave this account:
"Mr Rosenbaum invited all the competitors in the Major Tournament to witness the Derby in true English fashion. Two breaks conveyed the whole party, who were sumptuously entertained by their host and had the rare opportunity of witnessing a genuine English holiday...For a short period of the drive to Epsom [Baron Kolisch] and Herr Winawer contested a game of Chess without boards and men, and though as Chess it was not of a very high order, it is worth preservation from the singularity of the circumstances in which is was conducted."
And here it is:
"GAME PLAYED ON THE ROAD TO THE DERBY, WITHOUT SIGHT OF BOARD OR MEN, BETWEEN BARON KOLISCH AND S. WINAWER".
"One must not look for very correct Chess under the circumstances" observes the annotation in the tournament book, which also gives the competition games (conducted under rather more conventional arrangements) and the menu for the spectacular eight course (in this blog series we have come to expect nothing less) banquet on the 19th May, and the fine speeches that went on into the small hours. Mr Minchin proposed the toast to the Director of Play, Anthony Rosenbaum, which waxes in eloquent praise. He refers to the Director of Play's "parental solicitude" as to the welfare of the Chess-players, who could thus "enjoy themselves in aristocratic fashion, and to be as drunk as lords". "Mr. Rosenbaum
was an artist, and had an artist's failings as well as virtues, which partook in a degree of the female nature." Rosenbaum deflects all this with decorous modesty (as befits his inner lady, I suppose). See the full speeches in Appendix B. They don't make them like that any more.
Now. The dark side.
What are we to make of this: the closing lines of Rosenbaum's obituary, the longer more detailed one, in The Chess-Monthly
in June 1888?
"If proof of his worth were needed, it would be forthcoming in the fact that he was singled out, in connection with many other leading English players and amateurs, for an unjustifiable attack in certain quarters. Mr. Rosenbaum would not condescend to reply ; but in justice to his memory, we may state that these attacks have produced the contrary effect that were intended to produce - viz., indignation and contempt of the source from which they emanated."
"Singled out...for an unjustifiable attack"?
Well, for starters, there's the matter of Rosenbaum's apparent plagiarism of a chess problem composition by "J.B. of Bridport
". Yes, the Victorian problem world was, as we've observed before, a can of worms, and in this letter to The Chess-Monthly in 1879/80 he is making for himself a little wriggle room:
"It appears that my two-move problem in your October number is almost an exact copy of one...of the late J.B., of Bridport. I feel assured that [no-one] will accuse me of a flagrant act of piracy, and find, ipso facto but a curious coincidence."
He goes on to say, to paraphrase, if he'd wanted to steal someone else's idea he'd have disguised it better. And anyway "was the problem good enough for th[e] purpose" of enhancing his own reputation? - which was a point rather inelegantly made, and thankfully John Brown of Bridport was not around to read it, having been dead since 1863. AR had had nothing published for two years now, he said, because he "had long relinquished the idea that [he] should ever produce anything beyond mediocrity", though he was now encouraged to try again as one of his own efforts succeeded in emulating the "master": the late JB of Bridport. Well, fair enough, and one readily concedes that a man has to defend his reputation and all that; but maybe "protest" and "too much" are thoughts difficult to suppress.
What do you think? Just coincidence? Rosenbaum had put the King on b5.
|JB of Bridport|
Illustrated London News 1863
Mate in 2
But then, these things do happen. Even a hundred-odd years later.
Mate in 2
With thanks to MESON
But if the "unjustifiable attack" wasn't about this alleged misdemeanor, vigorously denied, did then some people still harbour resentment over the West End Club affair that kicked-off in 1875, coming to a messy end two years later. This was the well-intentioned, but disruptive, breakaway from the City of London Club, from which the latter took some time to recover, with St. George's subsequently eclipsing the wounded beast. Rosenbaum was the Secretary of the new outfit which, when obliged to wind up, could boast a run of successful events and competitions (as listed in The Chess-Monthly
of March 1880).
This episode is recounted in detail by Sergeant, who is quoted by Richard Forster and Tim Harding. The obit. in The Chess-Monthly
credits the brief "flourishing condition" of the West End Chess Club to Rosenbaum's management, and by the same token its subsequent difficulties were consequent on his illness of "several months' duration" (perhaps an episode of the same "severe illness over several years" that interfered with his painting project), which is all very flattering of his role, as an obituary would be. Flattering, because back in March 1880 The Chess Monthly
had said that the reason for the collapse of the West End CC was "the difficulty of finding suitable quarters after the sudden and unexpected change in the proprietorship of the house" in 1877, which downgrades AR's significance a touch (though of course the two factors may have played in to one another). Either way one could, I suppose, say that the eventual failure of the Club was due to circumstances beyond Rosenbuam's control.
In October 1880, the West End CC affair still rankled: as witness the reference in The Chess-Monthly's
report of the unveiling of the tableau: the "unfortunate state of disunion in metropolitan Chess circles" was how it put it. But, whatever Rosenbaum's role was in the West End CC's success and demise, would people have still been banging on about it at the time of Rosenbaum's death, ten years or so later?
Enter the Westminster Chess Club and its partisan and opinionated mouth-piece The Westminster Papers
had the knives out for the West End CC almost from the start, criticizing it for "extorting...high fees" for tournament players and spectators alike, and singling out the apparently graceless Steinitz, "the Bohemian", for particular venom ("he has pursued chess so ardently he has neglected most of the branches of polite learning which are said to lend charm to social intercourse"), and innuendo concerning his supposed self-interested influence in the management of the club. Rosenbaum, the West End's Secretary, and also of foreign origin, was in their sights too. In October 1877 it let rip: the West End Club, it said, may have started
with "prospects of success" but now
"... there appeared marked signs of debility... it succumbed...under the process of "bleeding". Before the club was three months old, the "honorary" secretary received a "testimonial", and many "simultaneous" displays exacted a penalty from the members in proportion to their means, or as the vagabond gossip of the time had it, their meanness."
Note the liberal application of quotation marks to suggest double-dealing and implying a sleight of hand-in-the-till, with the Secretary, Rosenbaum, "singled out".
Would some kind of honorarium have been unusual? The Westminster Papers
seemed to think so and, in such a swamp of insinuation, mud sticks. And what about this - and please forgive another long quote - this time in Minchin's own voice in his 1883 tournament book, with my emphasis:
"...Mr Rosenbaum...was appointed Director of Play, and the whole responsibility as regards the expenditure to be incurred and the admittance of the public at a rate fixed by the Committee was entrusted to this gentleman, on condition that, after meeting certain necessary items of outlay, he should receive 50 per cent. of the net proceeds taken from the public. It was with no view of personal gain that Mr. Rosenbaum entered into this arrangement. He wished to be able to show some hospitality to the foreign players from the funds at the Committee's disposal in a manner which could not have been carried out by the Committee, and it was doubtful to the last whether he would be reimbursed the amount which he spent in this manner. I think it due to Mr Rosenbaum to make this public statement, as much misrepresentation of his motives has occurred."
And indeed the accounts show a payment of £111 19s 1d as a "50 per cent claim" by A. Rosenbaum. He had, by the way, contributed a £5.00 subscription to the tournament as a member of St. George's Chess Club.
|The Victorian splendour of The Criterion (est 1874) today, |
and as it would have been then.
So: no smoke without fire? Twice the charge was made; and twice we read trenchant rebuttals, albeit from gentlemen who were his close associates. Had Rosenbaum been exploiting the opportunities that arose from these apparently unpaid positions to supplement the precarious income from his painting? Or, had he found himself duly rewarded after bearing some financial risk (as with the unpredictable tournament entrance fees, and hospitality paid from his own pocket). Was it above board, was it close to the wind, or was it perhaps under the counter? Or, from another perspective and in a more sinister vein, was he the target of that antagonism towards foreigners, with an undercurrent of anti-semitism, endemic in some Victorian circles?
So. By way of conclusion.
Concerning Mr Rosenbaum: we have questions rather than answers; and we're not really sure what he looked like. It is nice to put him on the record as otherwise he may well have been forgotten chess-wise since he didn't make a mark as a player, and only scrapes in by virtue of his problem compositions. It is as an organiser that he will be remembered, if at all. One can't escape the suspicion that he may have been a bit of a chess groupie, tolerated around the elite of chess heavyweights and associated high-rolling patrons and philanthropists, but maybe never quite "one of us".
Whatever his significance, or reputation, was in the world of chess, there is another question that has yet to get an answer: what happened to the rest of his art? OK, he was just a middle ranking jobbing portraitist, at a time when photography was making his craft in many ways redundant, but could there be some of his work still in existence...studies of some of the 47 chess gents, perhaps? It would be fascinating to turn something up.
As the National Portrait Gallery Archive says: the picture is important as an historical document. Its back story brings into focus one particular social stratum: the (male) metropolitan middle class, for many of whom chess appeared to be a vehicle for, or an adjunct to, their gentlemanly social intercourse, and their business interests. It is a partial picture, but a revealing one, and I hope that you have found it worthwhile to follow this extended examination of what seems to be Rosenbaum's sole surviving painting.
For more on Rosenbaum himself see episodes 9 and 10.
For all the posts in this series follow the links at the end of episode 1, or go to our History Index;
Once again thanks to Paul Timson, and Richard James for digging out material from their libraries, and to Olimpiu Urcan for the lead. Thanks also to Stephen and Diana Evans.
The National Portrait Gallery has the painting.
Forster, R. (2004) Amos Burn: A Chess Biography
Harding, T. (2012) Eminent Victorian Chess Players
Minchin, J.I. (1884) Games played in the London International Chess Tournament, 1883. Edited by J. I. Minchin, with the assistance of the English Masters Zukertort, Steinitz, Mason and Bird.
Sergeant, P.W. (1934) A Century of British Chess.
Treuherez, J. (1993) Victorian Painting. Pub: Thames and Hudson.
Wilson, F. A (1981) A Picture History of Chess.
Problem solution, and Appendices, after the jump.