Friday, 30 November 2018

The Ninon Michaelis Memorial, Kensal Green Cemetery

The Michaelis memorial was the first monument that really caught my eye in Kensal Green Cemetery on my first ever visit, and therefore the first one that I ever photographed. The reason for so many firsts is that it is the first substantial monument you reach walking along Centre Avenue from the main gate on Harrow Road. The figure of a grieving woman with the naked and rather sensual shoulders is executed with great skill and is clearly not the work of your average stonemason. I took a couple of photos of the memorial that day but despite passing it countless times since, and often stopping to look at it, I’ve never tried to get a better shot. Nor did I bother trying to find out who the memorial belonged to.

Henry Alfred Pegram at work in his studio
on a bust of Sir Cecil Rhodes
When I was at Golders Green crematorium the other week I left the shelter of the covered arcades and went out into the rain to look again at Henry Alfred Pegram’s striking bronze statue Into the Silent Land.  It is definitely worth getting wet for. Pegram was born in London in 1862 and studied at the West London School of Art. He became a Royal Academician in 1922 and died at his home in Hampstead in 1937. He was a professional sculptor who produced numerous public statues; his work can be found all over the UK and as far afield as Cape Town (statue of Cecil Rhodes) and Shanghai (Sir Robert Hart). As Into the Silent Land clearly shows, he was particularly good with the female form; his nudes are often unashamedly erotic.  The Crematorium was presented with the statue in 1937 by the Royal Society of Arts, presumably at Pegram’s suggestion, to commemorate his cremation that year.

It was only when I was researching Golders Green that I discovered that the Michaelis memorial was also by Pegram.  According to Historic England “the monument was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1901 before being placed on the plot on 10 August 1903. Notes in the ledger of the General Cemetery Company state that 'Maximilian Michaelis paid £320 for the plot; the monument was a figure memorial 12 feet high; and...weighed five to six tons'.” Sir Max Michaelis was a German born, possibly Jewish, financier and diamond magnate with extensive business interests in South Africa. The 34 year old business man married 22 year old Ninon Rydon at St Georges Hanover Square  in October 1886. She died less than 10 years later at the age of 31 of pneumonia and alcoholism whilst her husband was in South Africa. There were no children. Sir Max later remarried and had two daughters and a son with his second wife Lilian Elizabeth, (née Michaels)  who outlived him by almost a  half-a-century.  Sir Max was a dedicated collector and patron of the arts; he purchased the Lane collection in 1914 and left it to the South African nation where it is now known as the Michaelis Collection and is on permanent display at the Old Town House in Cape Town. 


  1. Interesting to read about this memorial. It a few paces away from the huge tomb of a distant cousin of mine, which I always look at whenever I go to Kensal Green, so I took a photo this week and was looking to find a bit more about Ninon.