Emmanuel Levy was born in Hightown, Manchester, the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, in 1900. Like his contemporary Jacob Kramer, he was one of a small group of Jewish artists, whose families, fleeing persecution, restrictive legislation and economic hardship settled in the north of England as part of the wider Jewish migration to Britain at the close of the nineteenth century. He grew up in, and closely identified with the area immortalized by the Jewish writer Louis Golding in his best-selling novel Magnolia Street (1932), which Levy later adapted as a radio play. Levy’s father was the beadle at the Great Synagogue, Cheetham Hill and he attended the local Jews’ Free School, before studying with L. S. Lowry at Manchester School of Art under Adolphe Valette (c. 1918), then at St Martin’s School of Art in London, and, afterwards, in Paris; he returned to Manchester for his first solo show in 1925. In 1928 Levy, recommended by Valette (whom he succeeded), was appointed a special instructor in life drawing at Manchester University School of Architecture, and gave popular public demonstrations in portrait painting. From 1929, for several years, he was Art Critic for Manchester City News and the Evening News. Throughout his 60-year career, he was closely associated with his native city and Lord Ardwick described him as ‘a Manchester man through and through. But’, he continued, ‘there is nothing provincial or even distinctly English in his work. He is a citizen of the world’.
Although he experimented with Cubism and Surrealism, Levy later abandoned these styles in favour of naturalism, specializing in figurative work exploring the human condition. He held six solo exhibitions in Manchester between 1925 and 1963. He also exhibited in London, including at Ben Uri, where his work was shown on numerous occasions from 1935 onwards, and he had solo shows in 1953, in 1978 and (posthumously) in 1989; in 2014 Ben Uri curated a solo exhibition of his work at the Jewish Museum Manchester. Emmanuel Levy died in London in 1986.