Completed North West England: Artists and Subjects, Portraits: British 20th C, Sculpture 40 Does anyone know more about the sculptor Betty Aaerens?

Topic: Artist

The Mapping Sculpture entry for this sculptor, which mentions this specific bust, spells her surname Aarens, not Aaerens as in the Art UK entry. It also says she exhibited in Liverpool in 1903, which means she was active at least 1903-1934. There seems to be very little known about her at present.

Jacinto Regalado, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. We discovered that the sculptor was known by several names during her lifetime, but she exhibited as Betty Aaerens and, after her marriage in 1939, as Betty Taub. Her birth and death dates were found and ‘Noel’ dated to 1934. The sitter was identified as Noel Barker (b.1902), a customs timber inspector. A short biographical summary of the artist was produced for Art UK.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. To anyone viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.


Gallery correspondence with the artist confirms the spelling of 'Aaerens'. It is also known that Betty Aaerens exhibited in 1932 with the Lancashire and Cheshire Artists' Exhibition in October - November 1932, with two artworks: 226 Tanya and 235 Portrait of a Youth. Correspondence between the Gallery and Mrs Esther Barker, wife of the 'Noel' portrayed in the Manchester Art Gallery bust, suggests Aaerens left Manchester in 1934 to live in London, where she later married.

The 1903 Liverpool exhibition was almost certainly the Liverpool Autumn Exhibition, held annually from 1873 to 1938 (apart from during WWI), and from 1877 at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool The Walker is presently in the process of digitising the first 10 years of the catalogues (1873-1882), but the rest of the series can only be accessed in hard copy. Copies of the catalogues are kept in the curatorial offices of the Walker and in the National Art Library at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, but neither offices nor NAL are open to the public during the pandemic. Even if the 1903 catalogue was accessible it would only provide the address of Betty Aaerens.

Jacinto Regalado,

If she had already been active for some 30 years by 1934 and then left for London and got married, that sounds rather late for such a move, though it's possible.

Kieran Owens,

For her submissions to the Royal Academy in 1904, 1905, and 1907, 46 Quarrendon Street, Parson's Green, London (one of the Mapping Sculpture addresses for Aaerens), was the address of the sculptor and medalist Margaret Winser (sic), who died a spinster at Ratsberry, Tenterden, Kent, in 1944. She had lived there from 1909 until her death. In 1929, she submitted a bust of "The late Dame Ellen Terry, G.B.E.". Quarrendon Street might have been an artists' house or perhaps there is a family connection.

Jacinto Regalado,

The Mapping Sculpture entry for Aarens (Aaerens in reality) gives her a London address during c. 1904-c. 1907, perhaps while she was a student there, although she had already exhibited in Liverpool in 1903. She did not exhibit at the Royal Academy, but exhibited in the North West in the early 1930s. It seems a rather spotty career, though no doubt there is much missing information. Given the unusual surname, can she be found on census or other public records in terms of her vital dates?

Martin Hopkinson,

the surname might suggest that she or her husband was South African, Flemish or Dutch in ancestry.

Andrew Shore,

There is a Betty Aarens on the 1939 Electoral Register for Hackney, living at 10 Laura Place:

In the 1939 register, there is a Betty Keat living at that address, and the surname is crossed out and someone has written TAVB above it (which usually means the person got married and changed their name later):

According to that record, her birthdate was 8th Oct 1904 and she was a Commercial Artist by profession. That would suggest that either this is a red herring (apologies if that's the case), or that we are looking for different artists (one exhibiting around the 1900s, one around the 1930s).

Kieran Owens,

David, in the above-mentioned Gallery correspondence with the artist, is her address on her letters, or on the gallery's replies?

Jacinto Regalado,

Andrew, commercial artists are usually graphic artists, not sculptors.

Kieran Owens,

According to the 1939 Register, Ernest Noel Barker, born 8th October 1902, a Customs timber inspector, was living with his wife Esther (née Shammah) (b. 9th February 1912), as well as her mother Nazlie Shammah (née Gubbay) (Halab, Syria, 1886 - Manchester, 1982) and several siblings, at 116, Burton Road, Manchester. He died on the 27th July 1990, at the age of 87, at 20, Sandhurst Avenue, Withington, Manchester. He was married to Esther in Manchester in 1936. The couple had two children, Toni Barker (b. 1937) and Victor Barker (b. 1939). These children, or their descendants, might have more information about the circumstances surrounding the creation of this bust.

Jacinto Regalado,

According to the Mapping Sculpture entry for this sculptor, what she showed at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool in 1903 were "Ave Maria" (high relief in marble) and "Mme Bianchi" (marble bust).

Kieran Owens,

Andrew, the actual reference in the 1939 Register is to Betty Kent, who later that year was married in Hackney to a Henry Taub. So the additional note in the Register is for Taub and not for TAVB.

As this Betty is listed in the Register as having been born on the 8th October 1904, she cannot be the same person who exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1904 and 1907. On the actual 1939 marriage register index for Henry Taub it suggests that Betty's surname could also have been Sheizer (sic) and that her first name was Rebecca.

Intriguingly, in the Electoral Register for the previous year, of 1938, Henry Taub is listed as living at 46, Colverstone Crescent, Hackney, with a Betty Aarons (sic), a surname not a million miles away from Aarens and Aaerens (see attached).

It seems improbable that the Betty Aarens who is listed as living at 10, Laura Place in the 1939 Electoral Register for Hackney, is different from the Betty Kent who is listed at the same address several months later in the September 1939 Register, and, who it is noted, later married a Taub, or that she is not the Betty Kent/Sheizer who later in the same year did marry Henry Taub, or that she is any different from the Berry Aarons (sic) who was living with Henry Taub the year before in 1938.

Summarising more positively, Betty Aarons in the 1938 Electoral Register is also the Betty Kent in the 1939 Register and also the Rebecca 'Betty' Kent/Sheizer who married Henry Taub later in 1939. Consequently, if one is looking for her after 1939, her name would have been Rebecca or Betty Taub.

In the Hayes & Harlington Gazette, of Wednesday 6th September 1989, its exhibitions listings mention "Small sculptures by Betty Taub" at "the Cow Byre, annex to Ruislip Library until Sep 16."

Betty Taub died at 13, Harrold House, Finchley Road, London, on the 30th October 1994. Her death registration index entry shows that she was born on the 4th October 1904, just four days earlier that then date noted in the 1939 Register.

In the official births register for 1904, a Rebecca Shiezer (sic) was born at Mile End.

On the basis of the above, it is quite possible that the Mapping Sculpture entry has conflated the lives of two different women. It is also possibly more likely that the sculptor of this piece is the Rebecca "Betty" Taub (née Shiezer/Sheizer aka Aarons and Kent) who was born in 1904, who married in London in 1939, about four years after this bust was executed, and who died in 1994. Why she might have used the names Aarens/Aaerens/Aarons/Kent has, as yet, to be worked out.

Additionally, in 1951, a Betty Taub exhibited a painting or drawing entitled "Spring at Kew" at the Ben Uri Gallery in London's Portman Street, at the "Annual Exhibition of Paintings, Drawings and Sculptures by Contemporary Jewish Artists". This could be the same artist:

Finally, this link leads to a mention of "Noel" by Betty Aaerens (sic) in the 1935 edition of The Year's Art. Perhaps someone with access to the full contents could post the page or pass on the relevant information regarding the entry:

Kieran Owens,

If the above is accepted, it looks like a commercial artist could also be a sculptor.

Kieran Owens,

One additional clue might be that in the 1911 Census there was a Rebecca Aarons, aged 7 (born 1904), living at "59, Oxford Street, Stepney East" and having been born at Mile End, London. No Rebecca of the surname Aaron is listed in the brith register for that year, but a Rebecca Shiezer of Mile End is, as previously pointed out.

As with all other contributions to these discussions, these suggestions are made for the consideration of the relevant collection, Art UK experts and others, and are not meant as some definitive proof of identity.

Osmund Bullock,

Well done, Kieran. I'd got as far as Kent/Sheizer/Henry Taub/Rebecca Shiezer, but was too lazy to pursue Henry T backwards and find the link to Aarons - in fact I'd wrongly concluded the two Bettys at the same address was just coincidence, and was in the process of posting to that effect last night when your masterly super-post appeared! You really don't need all the caveats and qualifications - good research and good arguments speak for themselves, and there's no doubt whatever in my mind that you're right in every particular. That is a remarkable achievement in the context - there have been about as many obstacles to correct identification here as it's possible to imagine.

Once the main burst of discovery in this discussion has petered out (and I think there's more to come), I wonder if the powers-that-be would consider mothballing it without threat of closure? Early next year the 1921 Census will be opened for research (the last to do so in my lifetime unless I live to 101!), and that may inform the story of Rebecca/Betty and her family. It would be good to know how she/they came to Manchester, though we may perhaps be able to glean some of that from electoral rolls and family vital records now that we know the surname they were probably using.

Jacinto Regalado,

The collection has original correspondence from 1934 with the sculptor of this bust. I remember seeing an image or images of it when the collection initially responded to my query via Art Detective, and I assume that still part of the AD files. Could we see that again?

Kieran Owens,

Thank you, Osmund. Your kind words are deeply appreciated.

Jacinto Regalado,

So the sculptor, possibly born Rebecca Shiezer/Sheizer in 1904, may have become Rebecca Aarons by 1911, was going by Betty Aaerens in 1934 according to her extant correspondence with the gallery, listed as Betty Aarons in 1938 and Betty Aarens in 1939 in the Electoral Registers of said years, then (briefly) became Betty Kent and finally Betty Taub upon her marriage.

I suppose she may have been adopted by 1911 by a family named Aarons. The brief Kent phase is rather odd, but at this point one can only speculate. Might the Ben Uri Gallery & Museum (which is on Art UK) be able to help with this apparently Jewish artist?

Osmund Bullock,

I managed to cheat most of the relevant page in ‘The Year's Art’ 1935 from Google Books snippets, along with an extract of an earlier page – see attached. I think these make it pretty clear that it’s not a particular exhibition or similar, but a record of recent acquisitions by Manchester City Art Gallery. The first part (before the missing section) seems to be items donated or bequeathed; the second, of which our bust is one, those purchased. This fits well with the recorded accession date of 1934.

1 attachment
Jacinto Regalado,

Osmund, the bust was clearly purchased according to the 1934 correspondence between Betty Aaerens and the MAG, which I hope we will see here, and which I saw previously.

Kieran Owens,

Thank you for that, Osmund.

I have already sent a request to the Ben Uri Museum and Gallery, as well as to the Cow Byre Gallery in Ruislip, requesting any information that they might have or could find. If I receive replies I will post them here.

Osmund Bullock,

Yes, I wasn't really offering it as new information, Jacinto, just clarifying that the snippet Kieran had found was not a new reference.

Manchester Art Gallery,

I can see within my Art UK trail of emails that we, the Gallery, did upload a copy of the correspondence when this was a proposed discussion but those emails don't contain the attachment. Can Art UK resurrect that attachment from the previous discussion?

Jacinto Regalado,

So, a plaster version of this bust was shown at the 75th Spring Exhibition, Manchester Academy of Fine Arts, 1934 (Cat. No. 265), as per the Mapping Sculpture entry for Betty Aarens (sic), which is in accord with what is written in these letters from Aaerens to MAG. The bust was subsequently cast in bronze for acquisition by MAG.

Jacinto Regalado,

Actually, it appears from the earliest of these letters that the exhibited bust may not have been the plaster model that was used for making the bronze version.

Kieran Owens,

The attached, from the National School Admission Registers and Log-Books for the "Manchester Jews Schools", shows a date of admission of the 15th June 1914 for Rebecca Shreizer (sic), daughter of Abraham Shreizer of 119, Elizabeth Street, Manchester. It also shows that she was born on 8th October 1904 and that she had transferred schools to Manchester from Stepney.

The second attachment, for three of her siblings, Rachel, Jane and Morris, shows the record for the same admission date, with the same father, and at the same address.

It would appear that, at some time between 1904 an 1914, the two surnames of Aarons and variously Shiezer, Sheizer and Shreizer were used by the family. However, all of these Shreizer log-book names, father and children, tie in with the Aarons family 1911 Census entry already posted for the address at 59, Oxford Street, Stepney East.

On the basis of this School Log-book evidence, as well as previously supplied material, I propose that Rebecca Shreizer of 119 Elizabeth Street, Manchester in 1914 is the same person as Betty Taub from the same address in 1934, as per the Manchester City Art Gallery correspondence supplied.

If the above is accepted, the question now will be whether to identify the artist as Betty Taub, Rebecca Aarons, Betty Aaerens/Aarens, or as Rebecca Shreizer/Sheizer/Shiezer etc.

Manchester Art Gallery,

If the above is accepted, the question now will be whether to identify the artist as Betty Taub, Rebecca Aarons, Betty Aaerens/Aarens, or as Rebecca Shreizer/Sheizer/Shiezer etc.

I would suggest that we would want to identify the artist as she identified herself in the correspondence. With the other variations recorded as alternative names for reference and clarification only - John Peel (Collection Information Manager)

Kieran Owens,

Following her typed name in that 1934 correspondence, her record would then read:

Betty Aaerens (1904 - 1994)

The other name variations could be included in the Description box and in the artist's eventual biographical entry on Art UK.

Jacinto Regalado,

Could the name be given on Art UK as Betty Aaerens (later Betty Taub) under the work's title? It would be of interest, of course, if we could find out more about her from the Ben Uri and Cow Byre galleries. The key question is what name(s) she used in connection with her known art works.

Martin Hopkinson,

The exhibition was the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Right at the top here David Saywell states that Aaerens (b. 1904) showed two pieces at the 'Lancashire and Cheshire Artists' Exhibition' in October - November 1932: what was the venue for that show?

The 'multiple identity' scenario is unusual but suggests that Betty adopted both the 'Aaerens' spelling and 'Kent' as professional names (the latter as the 'commercial artist' she stated herself to be in 1939). Why her parents varied theirs -though an obvious guess is that her mother's maiden name was 'Scheizer' (in whatever spelling)- is another puzzle. It is possible they only married after she was born, which would explain the birth registry. Its later use in Manchester might suggest they did not want to be traced there (London debts perhaps?), as might the 'Aaerens' variant spelling.

If Betty knew there had been an earlier sculptor Betty Aaerens it seems unlikely she would have deliberately wanted to be confused with her, so one is just left wondering at the odd coincidence.

Katharine Eustace, Sculpture,

Noel, 1934
Betty Aaerens (1904-1994)
Bronze; H: 54.8cms
Manchester Art Gallery (1934.195)
Exhibited: 75th Spring Exhibition, Manchester Academy of Fine Arts, 1934 cat. no. 265 (in plaster)
Correspondence March/April 1934: £35 the price paid by Manchester City Art Gallery of to include casting in bronze.
Literary reference: ‘The Year’s Art’ for 1935

This discussion called for more information about the sculptor, and what followed turned out to be something of a genealogical marathon. One name led to another, as the woman in question appeared to have a first name of Betty or Rebecca, and possible surnames of Aerens/Aaerons/Aere/ons (possibly Arens), Shiezer/Sheizer/Schreizer, and Kent, and finally Taub. For the clarification of most of this we have to thank Kieran Owens (26.03.21). The sculptor exhibited as Betty Aaerens, and after her marriage in 1939 as Betty Taub. These we might call her chosen ‘professional’ names. This was normal, a good example of a similarly complicated arrangement being Kathleen Scott, who, née Bruce, made her name under her first husband’s name of ‘Scott’, and as a widow remarrying, did not take her second husband’s name of ‘Young’ as her professional name. Should John Peel, Collection Information Manager at Manchester Art Gallery, need it in the tangle of names, the advice must surely be to use the name under which the work was exhibited, and, as he points out, in Gallery correspondence and note Osmund Bullock’s appeal to wait for the opening of the 1921 Census, in the hope of further clarification.

The search process also discovered that the sitter was Noel Barker (b.1902), a Customs timber inspector of 116 Burton Road, Manchester: thank you Kieran Owens. In 1936, soon after the portrait bust was modeled, Barker married Esther Shammah. Her mother Nazlie (née Gubbay) is recorded as being born in 1886 in Halab (Aleppo) Syria. From these names of Hebraic origin, one might infer that their possessors were refugees from anti-semitic pogroms in the Ottoman Empire and Russia, who arrived in London’s East End Docks and then made their way to Manchester, a traditional route to settlement. This may also give us a clue, or some explanation, as to the number of names used by the sculptor. The confused genealogy is not unsurprising in a country where people found both refuge and inherent xenophobia, and it was necessary to change their names at times – as satirized in Lionel Bart and Joan Littlewood’s ‘Fings Aint Wot They Used T’Be’; spellings were often written down phonetically, and in times of social stress irregularities of marriage status were not uncommon.

Pieter van der Merwe provided the by now customary and always exemplary summation of everything known about Betty Aaerens, and is to be thanked for this, as the discussion is now ready to be closed.

Manchester Art Gallery,

I would like thank all who contributed to this great piece of detective work. It has been a particularly tangled web.
John Peel - Collections Information Manager

Osmund Bullock,

I hesitate to delay closure here, but attached are PDFs of the army service record (a lucky survivor from the bomb-destroyed 'burnt documents') of Betty's father, Abraham Shchizer [sic - clearly his preferred spelling] Aarons: he served in France with the 9th (Russian) Labour Bn of the Labour Corps (he had asked to join a Jewish unit). Enclosed with this was also his Manchester Police alien identity book from before he was allowed to join the Corps. These confirm much of what has already been revealed, but adds some further detail of (inter alia) his birth (Feb 1880 in Tolchin [Tulchyn], Ukraine, then part of the Russian Empire), when he came to Britain (c.1899 when his Russian passport was issued), his marriage (30/8/1903 at Stepney Green Synagogue to Mary Bowman - apparently not registered with civil authorities) and when they moved to Manchester (March 1914).

Re the Aarons/Shchizer dichotomy, I feel I should add a very simplified (but still lengthy) note about Jewish surnames in this period. One of the many reasons that Jewish genealogy is so challenging is that their naming conventions, especially among Ashkenazim recently arrived from central Europe, can be *very* different from traditional British ones. And where the Jewish traditions had to accommodate local requirements it gets even more complex. To add to the confusion Jewish surnames had traditionally been quite mutable – they were sometimes changed when a family moved, for example, or to honour someone’s memory; and additionally most incoming Ashkenazi Jews already had compulsorily-imposed Mitteleuropean surnames, often occupational, that some were keen to lose now they could. Oh, and they usually also had different Hebrew surnames that were used in the Synagogue – often patronymic and individual (e.g.‘Ben-Ezra’), the equivalent of an Icelandic –sson ending. These sometimes formed the basis of newly-chosen heritable surnames – HaLevi (‘The Levite’) became Levi/Levy/Levin, for example – or they might go for a more anglicised version, e.g. Aaronson rather than Ben-Aharon. Much frustrating experience has led me to conclude that late 19th / early 20th C families sometimes tried out a couple or more names before finally settling on one out of practical necessity – and that some stayed unsure of what best to call themselves for quite a while now they were in a country that didn’t make the decision for them!