The work of émigré artists is as important today as it was a century ago. London is a vibrant city of different nationalities and many newcomers to London settle in the East End, the location of Ben Uri’s first home in 1915. Current migration follows the historic pattern of the Jewish community a century ago.
Jewish émigrés in Britain
The first wave of Jewish émigrés arrived in Britain in the early 20th century, many fleeing from Russia and the pogroms – horrific racist attacks against Jews. A second wave came from Central and Eastern Europe during the Second World War, this time escaping Nazi persecution.
The artists to emerge from these two periods of Jewish immigration have contributed to and revolutionised British art, including such key figures as Lucian Freud, David Bomberg and Mark Gertler.
Significantly, the Ben Uri Collection includes important works by a considerable number of these great émigré artists, including Bomberg, Gertler and Josef Herman, whose work Refugees (part of the Ben Uri collection) is shown above.
Art, migration and identity
Today the phrase ‘émigré artist’ may have a different meaning, because so many of us choose to live in other countries for pleasure, work and study, but there remains the same challenge of assimilation, of ‘settling in a foreign land’.
It is this exploration of art, migration and identity that lies at the heart of Ben Uri’s work. We continue to record the artistic transition of artists today as we have been doing for nearly a century.