Completed British 20th C, except portraits, London: Artists and Subjects, Portraits: British 20th C, Sculpture 25 Is this bust by William F. C. Ohly? Can the sitter be identified?

Topic: Artist

This work is dated (1935) and signed (Ohly).

I believe this could be William F. C. Ohly (1883–1955), an emigré artist and art dealer born in Germany but active in the UK as a printer, painter and sculptor. See

I am at present unable to identify the sitter, but in 1955 at Ohly's gallery there was a retrospective exhibition of his work (catalogue at the Victoria and Albert Museum) – perhaps this bust was exhibited there.

Barbara Pezzini, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The sculptor has been identified as William F. C. Ohly (William Ferdinand Charles Ohly). The website has been updated to include a suggestion from a member of the artist’s family that the sitter might be his brother Ernest Ohly, in the hope that it might lead to evidence one way or the other.

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.


Jacinto Regalado,

According to the British Museum and Ohly's Wikipedia entry, he was born in Kingston upon Hull and moved with his family to Germany in 1897. He returned to the UK before WWI but went back to Germany after the war, and then left Germany for good in 1934, settling in North London (New Barnet).

Jacinto Regalado,

The catalogue mentioned above is also apparently at the Tate.

Barbara Pezzini,

Thank you Jacinto, that information should support authorship/date - next time I am at the NAL or Tate I will try to look at the catalogue to see if the style of the artist could also support authorship.

Betty Elzea,

There is a good deal more about him in 'Provenance', pp.104-109. My copy was published by Paul Holberton in 2009. The article about him was by Hermione Waterfield. Ohly left Germany in 1934. I was taken on a visit to the Abbey Art Centre as a very ignorant and naive art student in about 1949-50, by my friend the dealer John Hewett. The communal art centre was flourishing at that time. I was given a small roundel of stained glass made by one of the artists (the name escapes me). I still have it.

Betty Elzea,

There must be a reason for this portrait bust being at the hospital - a staff member or a trustee, or a benefactor?

Jacinto Regalado,

In 1935, the date of the bust, it would presumably have been in St Stephen's Hospital in Chelsea (the current Chelsea and Westminster Hospital only dates from 1993).

Martin Hopkinson,

It could also have come from St Mary Abbot's Hospital in Marloes Road, West London Hospital in Hammersmith Road, Westminster Hospital in Horseferry Road,Westminster Hospital Medical School in Page Street or Westminster Children's Hospital in St Vincent's Square
It would be worth looking through the exhibition catalogues of the annual exhibitions of Royal Society of British Sculptors and the like

His interest in ethnographic art may mean that Emeritus Professor Malcolm McLeod, formerly Director of the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery may have information on the sculptor

Jacinto Regalado,

Checking the catalogue of Ohly's retrospective exhibition (mentioned above) clearly looks like the next step.

Martin Hopkinson,

He exhibited one work in 1937 at the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts
Unfortunately the online Mapping the Practice and Profession in Britain & Ireland does not go beyond 1951

Martin Hopkinson,

Dr Monica Bohm-Duchen, based in London, is very knowledgeable about artists who settled in Britain in the 1930s to escape Fascist oppression

Osmund Bullock,

The connection is likely to have been with St Stephen's, as in 1935 Ohly was living in Netherton Grove, which ran down the west side of the old hospital, as it does that of the new Chelsea & Westminster. See; go to p.131 (130 as paginated). By the following year's summer exhibition he had moved to Maida Vale.

Martin Hopkinson,

The London Metropolitan Archives should hold some of the papers of the period which should provide the names of prominent staff
LCC/ MIN /2663-2666
See also in The Bishopsgate Librsry C M Howgrave- Grave, The little hospital in Chelsea .. 1978
also held by The Society of Antiquaries of London

Martin Hopkinson,

Professor Margaret Garlake may have done some research on Ohly
His family may well have originated in the early 19th century in Hamburg making yeasts and spirits in 1836 - the Heinrich Helbing Korn Distillery

Martin Hopkinson,

Worldcat has a long list of publications issued by Ohly's Berkeley Galleries - it was there that his memorial exhibition of painting and sculpture was held
One exhibition was devoted to Bernard Leach - 1946- another in 1945 to Henry Moore and Matthew Smith.

Martin Hopkinson,

He was a friend of a fellow emigre artist,calligrapher and typeface designer and bookcover designer for Faber & Faber, Berthold Wolpe see Sarah Dawood, Design Week, 21 March 2018 discussing an exhibition of 2018 at the Lettering Arts Centre in Suffolk, put together by Phil Cleaver and the artist's daughter Deborah Hopson-Wolpe.

Martin Ohly,

W F C Ohly is my grandfather. Once I am back in Germany I will check in remaining documents I have to see if we can positively identify.

Jacinto Regalado,

Although it is not mentioned in his Mapping Sculpture entry, which only records that he exhibited one work in Glasgow in 1937, Ohly exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1935, 1936 and 1937 (but no portrait bust).

Jonathan Lea,

It looks a bit like Ernest Ohly who was William Ohly's brother (William also called his son Ernest). Ernest Ohly had a son called Sydney Ohly who lived in Brighton (after moving from Germany) who was my grandfather (mother's father)

Jonathan, thank you for joining this discussion. Sorry to be a month late saying so, but I have been on leave.

Are you in contact with Martin Ohly, who commented on this discussion in 2019, or other family members? I emailed Martin in 2019 and again in 2021, but have had no replies.

If you prefer I can be reached at (we don't put personal email addresses on the website).

Katharine Eustace, Sculpture,

In conclusion:
Ernest Ohly, 1935
William F.C. Ohly (1883-1955)
Bronze. Signed and dated.

This discussion has run into the sand, but on the understanding that two members of the Ohly family identified a likeness for the sitter, Art UK wishes to close it. Should evidence emerge to the contrary, that can be taken into account and the entries for both the Collection of Chelsea and Westminster Hospital and Art UK brought up to date.

We learnt quite a lot about the sculptor William Ohly in the process. With an antecedence in the port of Hull with its traditional links with Hamburg, and family connections in Germany, he settled in New Barnet, North London in 1934. William Ohly was the founder of both the Berkeley Galleries, Davies Street, in 1942, which showed Henry Moore, Matthew Smith and Bernard Leach among others, and dealt in ethnographic material (see Waterhouse, Hermione and King, J.C.H., 'Provenance, twelve collectors of ethnographic art in England 1760-1990', Paris 2006, pp.105-10), and the artists' community at the Abbey Arts Centre in North Barnet in 1946.

There are two Ernests in the Ohly family at this time: William's brother and his son. It is not clear which lived at Netherton Grove, but the proximity to St Stevens Hospital - as Osmund Bullock has pinned down - suggests a possible connection. Thanks are due to Barbara Pezzini for raising the discussion, and for the Art Detective sleuths, particularly Betty Elzea, for pursuing this with their usual rigour.

Kieran Owens,

Some Ohly family details, for what they are worth to this discussion:

The art dealer Ernest Jacob Felix Ohly was born to William Ferdinand Charles Ohly and his wife Florence Annie Lloyd, on the 9th October 1920 and died on the 8th April 2008. His involvement in the Benin bronzes affair is well documented:

As this discussion's bust is dated to 1935, it obviously cannot be of William's son Ernest Jacob Felix, who would have been 15 years old at the time of its creation. On the basis of a "looks a bit like" identification, I would be extremely cautious about concluding that this sitter is William's brother Ernest until such a time as strong visual proof can be supplied to Art UK by either Martin Ohly or Jonathan Lea.

The 1939 Register lists William Ferdinand Charles Ohly as an artist and painter, and as having been born on the 31st August 1883. His address was given as 11, Sydney Close, Kensington.

In 1946, William Ohly purchased The Abbey in New Barnet and founded an artists' colony there.

In 1953, W. F. C. Ohly was reported in newspapers as being the proprietor of the Berkeley Galleries in London, and as dealing in Liberian ethnographic materials.

W. C. F. Ohly died on the 22nd July 1955 at Park Road, New Barnet, Hertfordshire. The administration of his estate was left to his widow, Kate, and his son Ernest Jacob Felix Ohly, "art dealer". His estate was valued at £12,260/17/8.