The work of émigré artists is as important today as it was a century ago. Ben Uri has been at the centre of it from the vibrant East End at a centre for Jewish refugees to today’s exhibition with Counterpoint Arts.
Jewish émigrés in Britain
The first wave of Jewish émigrés arrived in Britain in the early 20th century. Many were fleeing from pogroms of Russia with a second wave from Central and Eastern Europe escaping Nazi persecution.
The artists to emerge from these two periods revolutionised British art, with key figures 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 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.
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.