Best remembered in Poole for the time he spent teaching life drawing at Poole Arts Centre from its opening in 1978 until shortly before his death in 1991, Sam Rabin was a true renaissance man.  

A painter, draughtsman, sculptor, printmaker, teacher, wrestler, boxer, singer and actor, he taught the likes of Mary Quant and Bridget Riley at Goldsmiths, won bronze for wrestling at the 1928 Olympics, appeared in films for Alexander Korda and sang professionally in the 1940s, even auditioning for the legendary conductor Victor de Sabata. 

His portrait by Allan Wolff is in the collection of Poole Museum. 

Born Samuel Rabinovitch in 1903 to Imperial Russian Jewish émigrés, in 1914 he won a scholarship to Manchester Municipal School of Art, LS Lowry’s alma mater, becoming its youngest ever pupil, and was taught by French artist Adolphe Valette before continuing his studies at the Slade School of Fine Art under Henry Tonks. 

After working with the sculptor Charles Despiau in Paris he returned to London and in 1928 worked on the new headquarters for the UERL (the forerunner of London Underground) with Henry Moore and Jacob Epstein among others, and the Daily Telegraph building in Fleet Street. 

Physically strong, Sam supplemented his earnings by boxing and wrestling to such a standard that he was called up to the Great Britain squad for the Amsterdam Olympics in 1928 where he won a bronze medal in freestyle wrestling, middleweight division, prompting him to turn professional. He fought as ‘Rabin the Cat’ and ‘Sam Radnor the Hebrew Jew’, drawing huge crowds and catching the eye of film producer-director Alexander Korda who cast him in 1933’s The Private Life of Henry VIII in 1933 and The Scarlet Pimpernel the following year. 

As well as featuring in ringside paintings by the likes of William Roberts and Barnett Freedman, Rabin also made his own boxing paintings – in later life he sketched ringside at the Muhammed Ali (then Cassius Clay) v Henry Cooper bout in 1963. 

By the end of the 1930s Sam was also pursuing a career as a talented baritone singer and during World War 2 toured military bases with the Army Classical Music Group. He sang in a number of BBC productions, but resisted further offers, returning to art to teach drawing at Goldsmiths from 1949 until 1965 when his highly disciplined methods fell out of favour and he took up a post at Bournemouth and Poole College of Art. He taught there until he retired in 1985, but continued life drawing classes at Poole Arts Centre until shortly before his death in December 1991. 

Do you remember Sam? Please email marketing@lighthousepoole.co.uk if you'd like to share your Monday Memories - we'd love to hear from you. 

Published 29 March 2021