After his commercial training, the Jewish artist Benno Elkan studied painting in Munich in 1897, initially as a private pupil of Walter Thor’s and then, from 1898–1900, under Nikolaos Gysis and Johann Caspar Herterich. From 1903 he began to teach himself sculpture which was to become his real vocation. Between 1905 and 1908 he lived in Paris and belonged to the circle of German artists who met at the Café du Dôme. It was there that he was introduced to Alfred Flechtheim and other French sculptors including Albert Bartholomé and Antoine Bourdelle. Auguste Rodin’s works were to prove decisive for his later development. He also became friends with the painter Jules Pascin. In 1907 he married Helene Einstein, the poet and art critic Carl Einstein’s sister.
Despite his proximity to the avant-garde Elkan’s work always remained anchored in a form of naturalism that, although echoing epochal styles such as Jugendstil and Expressionism, is nevertheless based more on the art of Roman Antiquity in its formal constraint. His œuvre ranges from busts – including portraits of Alfred Flechtheim und Carl Einstein – to tombs and religious works of art. In 1934 he emigrated to London where he focussed on making church candlesticks, including one for Westminster Abbey in 1943. His most important work is the large menorah in the Knesset in Jerusalem that he made in 1956 as a gift from the British government to Israel. Elkan lived in London until his death in 1960. Most of his non-religious memorials in Germany were destroyed by the Nazis.
Although Benno Elkan created a portrait of Alfred Flechtheim in 1908, he never exhibited in Flechtheim’s galleries nor did he contribute to ‘Der Querschnitt’. Elkan had a similarly dissonant relationship with his brother-in-law, Carl Einstein, as the latter did not offer him any support, presumably because he was too firmly rooted in traditional styles.