New Exhibition at The Jewish Museum
Presents The Sassoons

The Jewish Museum presents The Sassoons, an exhibition that reveals the fascinating story of a remarkable Jewish family, highlighting their pioneering role in trade, art collecting, architectural patronage, and civic engagement from the early 19th century through World War II. On view from March 3 through August 13, 2023, the exhibition follows four generations from Iraq to India, China, and England, featuring a rich selection of works collected by family members over time. 


Over 120 works—paintings, Chinese art, illuminated manuscripts, and Judaica—amassed by Sassoon family members and borrowed from numerous private and public collections are on view. Highlights include Hebrew manuscripts from as early as the 12th century, many lavishly decorated; Chinese art and ivory carvings; rare Jewish ceremonial art; and Western masterpieces including paintings by Thomas Gainsborough and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, and magnificent portraits by John Singer Sargent of various Sassoon family members. The Sassoons explores themes such as discrimination, diaspora, colonialism, global trade, and war that not only shaped the history of the family but continue to define our world today. 


The exhibition narrative begins in the early 1830s when David Sassoon, the patriarch of the family, was forced to leave his native Baghdad due to the increasing persecution of the city’s Jewish population. Establishing himself in Mumbai (then Bombay) and initially involved in the cotton trade, his vision led the family from Iraq to India, China, and finally England where his descendants gradually settled over the decades. His activities soon grew to include the opium trade, which had escalated after the collapse of the East India Company in mid-19th century, ending its monopoly and allowing private companies to engage in this profitable enterprise. He aligned with and benefitted from British colonial interests soon extending his business to China and England by deploying his eight sons to oversee new branches in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and London.  


Although less known, the Sassoon women were discerning collectors. The exhibition pays special attention to these unsung patrons of art. Rachel Sassoon Beer became the first woman in Britain to edit two newspapers, The Sunday Times and The Observer, and played a crucial role reporting on the Dreyfus affair in Britain. Her painting collection, sold at auction in 1927, listed, among other great works, one drawing and 15 paintings by Corot, a Constable, and a Peter Paul Rubens. Of a younger generation, Hannah Gubbay, a Sassoon on both her father’s and her mother’s side, was a major collector of 18th century art, furniture, and porcelain, as was her cousin, Mozelle Sassoon.


The exhibition also highlights the distinguished properties of the Sassoons in the United Kingdom. A Member of Parliament for the Conservative Party, Sir Philip Sassoon made active use of his three great residences, Park Lane (now destroyed) and Trent Park in London, and Port Lympne in Kent. Surrounded by landscaped gardens (in the case of Trent Park and Port Lympne) and filled with priceless works of art, all three were used by the government for high-profile cabinet meetings and receptions of foreign dignitaries and celebrities. Paintings of Port Lympne by Sir Winston Churchill, a frequent visitor, are featured. 


Programs in conjunction with The Sassoons  include a series of lectures, conversation, performances, and virtual courses inspired by the exhibition. Among the highlights are a 92nd Street Y Virtual Curator Talk with Claudia Nahson titled “The Sassoons: Art Collectors, Patrons, and Civic Leaders” (Tuesday, March 28 at 10:30am ET); Joseph Sassoon and Atina Grossman in Conversation (In Person, Thursday, April 27 at 6:30pm ET); a virtual lecture by Professor Shalva Weil (Thursday, May 4 at 6:30pm ET); a performance featuring Sara Serpa, Erik Friedlander, and Ingrid Laubrock co-presented with Bang on a Can (In Person, Thursday, May 18 at 7:30pm ET); a lecture by exhibition co-curator Esther da Costa Meyer (In Person, Thursday, June 1 at 6:30pm ET); and a book talk with Jonathan Kaufman, author of The Last Kings of Shanghai (In Person, Thursday, June 8 at 6:30pm ET).


The public may call 212.423.3200 or visit for more information.