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Refuge: The Art of Belonging

Exhibition of the artists who fled Nazi occupation
Kurt Schwitters, Portrait of Edward Driscoll, 7 January 1941, Oil on panel of tea chest, Private Collection.

Artists who found safe haven in Britain after being displaced by war are the subject of a new exhibition at Abbot Hall Art Gallery.

Refuge: The Art of Belonging (15 February to 29 June 2019) tells the story of artists who entered Britain as a result of Nazi occupation.

The exhibition is part of Insiders/Outsiders – a nationwide arts festival taking place throughout 2019 to celebrate refugees from Nazi Europe and their contribution to British culture.

Refuge: The Art of Belonging runs over three galleries and includes work by Kurt Schwitters, Hilde Goldschmidt, Hans Coper, Lucie Rie, Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach.

Many of the works are from Lakeland Arts’ collection. The exhibition also includes private and public loans from around the UK.

Refuge: The Art of Belonging will focus on the personal experiences of the artists, offering poignant, emotive and sometimes challenging stories of migration, home and belonging.

For those who had made the gruelling journey to Britain by sea from ports around Europe, they found themselves to be ‘enemy aliens’, interned by the state.

The two main camps were the Huyton Camp, Liverpool, where artists such as Martin Bloch were interned, and the Hutchinson Camp, Isle of Man, which became known as the ‘Artists Camp’, or ‘University Camp’. It was here Kurt Schwitters would make sculptures from leftover porridge.

French-German artist Jean ‘Hans’ Arp (1886-1966) will be included. Although Arp fled to Switzerland, he had a resounding effect on British Surrealist art and communicated regularly with his friend Schwitters while he lived in Cumbria.

Work by Jankel Adler will go on show. The Jewish/Polish painter, was labelled a ‘degenerate artist’ by the Nazis. Adler would lose all nine of his siblings in the Holocaust and was denied British citizenship shortly before his death.

Monica Bohm-Duchen, Creative Director of Insiders/Outsiders said: “The Insiders/Outsiders festival is an emphatically nationwide celebration of the contribution that refugees past and present make to British culture.

“I’m absolutely delighted therefore that one of the first exhibitions forming part of the festival is at Abbot Hall Art Gallery, with its close connection to Kurt Schwitters, one of the most influential of all the artists who found refuge here from Nazi Europe.

“Abbot Hall is generously lending Flight, a key work by Schwitters to the Brave New Visions exhibition hosted by Sotheby’s in July. It will help tell the story of the pioneering émigré dealers to championed refugee artists in the 1940s-60s.”

The Abbot Hall exhibition particularly focuses on the work of two artists who came to the Lake District during the Second World War: Hilde Goldschmidt (1897-1980), a successful Expressionist artist, and Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948) who is widely recognised as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century.

Considered by many to be the first multimedia artist, working in paint, collage, poetry and installations, Schwitters developed his own style of abstract art which he called Merz. Like most German artists, he was driven out of Germany and fled to Ambleside, Cumbria.  Goldschmidt and Schwitters met in the Lake District and inspired each other.

Refuge: The Art of Belonging features two portraits made by Schwitters during his internment on the Isle of Man. The first, of fellow artist Fred Uhlman and the second of Edward Driscoll, a guard at the internment camp which was painted on a panel of a tea chest (on loan from a private collection). The Edward Driscoll painting is the lead image for the exhibition.

Some of the artists included in Refuge: The Art of Belonging:

Lucian Freud (1922-2011)

‘I once photographed Hitler. I was nine, in 1931, and was walking around Berlin with my governess and had my camera with me… I was fascinated by him because he had huge bodyguards and he was really very small.’ – Lucian Freud.

Lucian Freud was born in Berlin. In 1933, with the rise of the Nazi Party, Freud’s uncle became one of the first victims of the growing anti-Semitic power. Little is known about what happened to the Jewish businessman, but he was murdered. In August 1933, not long after the murder, Ernst and Lucie Freud moved their family to London. Other members of the Freud family, including his grandfather Sigmund Freud, would make the journey to London seeking refuge, however, Freud’s four great-aunts all died in the concentration camps. Today Freud is considered one of the greatest British artists of the twentieth century.

Frank Auerbach (b 1931)

Auerbach fled Germany as an eight-year-old. His parents died in the Holocaust. Auerbach went to school in Kent and then moved to London – a city devasted by the Blitz. Auerbach has made some of the most resonant and inventive paintings of recent times, of people and urban landscapes. He is now 88-years-of-age.

Jankel Adler (1895–1949)

As a Jewish-Polish painter and printmaker Adler experienced first-hand the persecution by the Nazi regime. In the early 1930s he was working in Germany when two of his works were shown in an exhibition that named him a ‘degenerate artist’. Adler was forced to leave Germany, travelling for several years around Europe, before volunteering with the Polish Army in 1939. Adler discovered that none of his nine siblings had survived the Holocaust. In 1949 his application for British citizenship was rejected. He died shortly after.

Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980)

The Austrian artist, poet and playwright is perhaps best known for his intensely expressionistic painting, and for teaching and influencing a generation of artists. Kokoschka fled to Prague before being forced to leave and come to Britain seeking asylum.

Hilde Goldschmidt (1897-1980)

The Jewish-German Hilde Goldschmidt had been a rising star of German Expressionism in the 1920s, having been the favourite pupil of Oskar Kokoschka. However, in the early 1930s the rising threat of the Nazi party was encroaching on her very existence. In March 1938 Austria was annexed to Germany. She was implored by her brother to move to England, where he already had a home and family. In March 1939 Goldschmidt and her mother left, with little money, for British shores.

Martin Bloch (1883-1954)

Martin Bloch was a German-Jewish artist who came to Britain as a refugee in 1934. In 1933 as secretary of the Berlin Riechsverbandes bildeneder Kunstler Deutschlands (a professional association for fine artists in Weimar Germany) Bloch was responsible for hanging their annual show.  When SA guards under the pro-Nazi Prince August Wilhelm forced entry and removed paintings, Bloch felt directly threatened. The Bloch family fled Nazi Germany in 1934 via Denmark. They reached London and Bloch opened an art school ‘the School of Contemporary Painting and Drawing’.

Fred Uhlman (1901-1985)

Fred Uhlman had been a lawyer in Stuttgart, with a doctorate in both civil and church law, before having to flee Germany in 1933 because of his Jewish origins. He moved to Paris, however, the law forbid all foreigners from taking up paid employment. If caught working Uhlman would be immediately deported. Uhlman supported himself through private sales of his art and the odd rare commission, but it was difficult to find buyers. Although he held his first solo exhibition in Paris in 1935, at one point he was forced to supplement his income by trading in tropical fish. Ulhman set up home in Hampstead.

Marie-Louise von Motesiczky (1906-1996)

On 13 March 1938, the day after the annexation of Austria by the Nazi party, Motesiczky and her mother, Henriette, left Vienna. They travelled to Amsterdam, where Motesiczky had her first solo exhibition, then to Switzerland, and finally reached England in February 1939, settling in London. Motesiczky’s brother, Karl, chose to stay in Vienna to help Jewish friends and oppose the rising political climate. He was eventually imprisoned by the Gestapo, before being sent to Auschwitz, where he died.

Jean Arp (1886-1966)

The French-German sculptor, poet, painter had early success as an artist. In 1915, when conscripted to the German army, he handed in his papers, filled in only using the date repetitively in each section, entirely naked. He then moved to the neutral Switzerland to avoid fighting. Arp’s work, like many who shared in the Dadaist movement, critiqued the system that shaped society and had led to the First World War and were leading to the Second World War. Arp is the only artist in this exhibition who did not seek refuge in Britain. He was close friends with Kurt Schwitters.

Willy Tirr (1915-1991)

Born in Stettin, Germany to a wealthy artistic Jewish family, Tirr fled to Britain in 1938 at the age of 23. He was then interned in England and sent to Australia, before applying to join the British army, where he served in the Intelligence Corps. He was one of the first people to enter the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. After the War Tirr taught at Leeds College of Art, before becoming the Head of Art at Leeds Polytechnic. Inspired by the Yorkshire landscape, Tirr’s work became more abstract, referencing the elements in his use of colour and his vapour-like painting technique. A recurring subject of his work were sailing and flight. These could be interpreted as a reflection of his personal experiences in exile from Germany.

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