Read about the history of Ben Uri, from its humble beginnings in 1915, in London's East End Jewish community, through to today's acclaimed museum, with a collection of nearly 1300 artworks including works by Chaïm Soutine, Marc Chagall, Frank Auerbach and David Bomberg.
Ben Uri was founded on the 1 July 1915 by the Russian émigré artist Lazar Berson in Gradel's restaurant, in Whitechapel, in the heart of London's East End. It was originally called ‘The Jewish National Decorative Art Association (London), “Ben Ouri”’ and was established to support and nurture art and creativity. This remains a key focus of Ben Uri’s work today.
The name Ben Uri echoes that of legendary biblical craftsman Bezalel Ben Uri (Exodus, Chapter 35, verses 30-35), the creator of the tabernacle in the Temple of Jerusalem, and it reflects a kinship with the ideals of the famous Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts, founded in Jerusalem nine years earlier, in 1906.
Jewish artists and 20th century art
The histories of Ben Uri and that of 20th century British art are closely intertwined; the blossoming of the immigrant generations of Jewish artists was mirrored by the development of modern painting in Britain. Ben Uri supported and in turn was supported by those artists. The outburst of creativity that burgeoned in London's East End Jewish community, and gave this country so many of its 'masters' including the group now known and recognised as 'The Whitechapel Boys', also gave birth to Ben Uri.
From art society to museum
During the 1920s, Ben Uri moved from its East End home to a central London location, first near the British Museum in Bloomsbury, later moving to the West End and finally, in the 1950s, to London's Soho, where it ran a programme of exhibitions and cultural activities until the 1990s. Sadly, in 1996, Ben Uri lost its Dean Street venue in Soho and the millennium brought about a new chart of its history.
It wasn't until January 2001, with the The Ben Uri Story From Art Society to Museum exhibition, held in London's Bond Street, that a new chapter in Ben Uri's history began. This exhibition, which was honoured by the presence of Teddy Kollek, the founder of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and the Jewish Museum in Vienna, formally launched Ben Uri and positioned its future as an arts museum with a mission to establish a new reputation as Europe's only dedicated Jewish Museum of Art. This era also saw Ben Uri move to a temporary home in North London, where it remains today.
In 2002, Ben Uri moved to its temporary space in Boundary Rd, St John's Wood, a location made famous by the Saatchi Gallery and the Beatles, who crossed the Abbey Road to the studio where they produced many of their hit records.
It was in July this same year, and in partnership with the Jewish Museum, Frankfurt, that Ben Uri celebrated its re-opening with the internationally-acclaimed exhibition of works by the famous German expressionist Ludwig Meidner and his artist wife, Else.
Ben Uri is still creating ground-breaking exhibitions in its temporary home in north London - and still looking for a permenant gallery so it can display its unique collection of work; a space that would enable the museum to show its collection in its entirety. Unfortunately, until a central London gallery is found the bulk of the Ben Uri Collection remains hidden away in secure storage.
Ben Uri needs a new home
The next chapter in Ben Uri's history includes finding a permenant new London home for its collection of nearly 1300 works - a collection that is vital, unique and of great artistic merit to everyone. For now, The Ben Uri Collection remains a hidden treasure, with only a small selection of its artworks being shown as either part of its current exhibiton or a touring exhibiton at many museums in the UK and worldwide.
Where to see the Ben Uri Collection
You can currently sample around 1000 works from the Ben Uri Collection in our online gallery. You can also find out more about our current exhibition and our available touring exhibitions in Exhibitions.
Ben Uri exhibitions
Ben Uri, which celebrates is centenary anniversary in 1915, has held a number of important exhibitions in its nearly 100-year-old history. In the latter half of the 19th century and into the new millennium, some of these exhibitions include:
- Sir Jacob Epstein (1980)
- Mark Gertler (1982)
- Jacob Kramer (1984)
- Solomon J Solomon RA (1990)
- Abram Games (1991)
- Claude Rogers (1992)
- Bernard Cohen (1994)
- The Ben Uri Story, From Art Society to Museum (2001)
- Bernard Meninsky (2001)
- Ludwig and Else Meidner (2002)
- Mark Gertler (2002)
- William Roberts and Jacob Kramer: The Tortoise and the Hare (2003)
- A Storm in Europe: Béla Kádár, Hugó Scheiber and Der Sturm Gallery in Berlin (2003)
- Rediscovering Wolmark: a pioneer of British modernism (2004)
- Abram Games (2005)
- Chagall and his Circle (2005)
- Joash Woodrow (2005)
- Embracing the Exotic: Jacob Epstein and Dora Gordine (2006)
- Dora Holzhandler (2006)
- Love Revealed: Simeon Solomon and the pre-Raphaelites (2006)
- Ambiguous Realities: Dorothy Bohm Photography (2006)
- Regard and Ritual, Julie Held and Shanti Panchal (2007)
- David Breuer Weil Project 3 (2007)
- Bomberg's Relevance (2007)
- Auktion 392, Reclaiming the Galerie Stern, Dusseldorf (2007)
- Whitechapel at War, Issac Rosenberg and his Circle (2008)
- Isaac Rosenberg (2008)
- Israel and Art: 60 Years Through the Eyes of Teddy Kollek (2008)
- Robert Lenkiewicz: Self Portraits (2008)
- Forced Journeys: Artists in Exile in Britain c. 1933-45 (2009)
- Jacques Lipchitz: Master Drawings, Anatomy of a Scultor (2009)
- Apocalypse:Unveiling a Lost Masterpiece by Marc Chagall (2010)
- Cross Purposes: Shock and Contemplation in Images of the Crucifixion (2010)
- Ludwig Blum: Painting Jerusalem and Beyond (2010)
- Josef Herman: 1938-1944. Warsaw, Brussels, Glasgow, London (2011)
- Dodo (Burgner) Rediscovered: the Inspiration of Decadence (2011)
Click here to see a list of group exhibitions to December 1999 (Pdf)
Click here to read a fascinating list of exhibitions and events organised since the founding of the Ben Uri Art Society as well as material available at the Ben Uri Archives.
You can now find some of the works that were included in these exhibitions in the Collection.