In the meantime, continue to enjoy our comprehensive and fully digitised collection at: www.benuricollection.org.uk
Following the success of the repurposing of the gallery in 2019 when we launched full public access to the extensive Ben Uri library and century of archives the Board have agreed to further extend the library and archive research facilities across all of the lower floor. This is designed to reinforce the academic focus of the institution led by the Ben Uri Research Unit charged with research and digital recording of the Jewish and Immigrant contribution to British visual culture since 1900.
To facilitate the physical changes necessary to extend the research capacity and resources, the gallery will re-open to the public on the 30th of September with a survey of the late, pioneering and political artist Gustav Metzger. He was, and remains, a greatly influential figure in the canon of modern British art. He was born in Nuremberg, Germany in 1926 and through the good auspices of the Refugee Children Movement, came to Britain as a child refugee in 1939. His talent was recognised here and he received a grant from the UK Jewish community to study at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp between 1948 and 1949. His life experiences inspired his artistic and political activity and with John Sharkey initiated the ‘Destruction in Art Symposium’ in 1966. His body of work continually incorporated diverse physical materials from newspaper to acid. His last major UK exhibition was at the Serpentine in 2009 and our forthcoming showing of his early work on the 30 September is a rare, valuable and informative addition to the awareness and understanding of this important artist. Metzger died in London in March 2017.
The world has endured months of being locked down, if not locked in, and our strategy of committing to a digital / virtual future which two years ago was considered radical and questionable has within a few short months become accepted and widely adopted.
We want to share with you an important online exhibition that will be presented on our new web site to mark the 80th anniversary of a more limited but nonetheless disturbing period in our history: that of the Internment of German and Austrian residents in Britain in 1940. This exhibition is just one of 40 which will be available to you when the new virtual museum is launched in the weeks to come.
INTERNMENT IN GREAT BRITAIN: 1940In memory of artist Eva Aldbrook 1925-2020
On the 80th anniversary of internment in Britain, Ben Uri is celebrating the many artist internees who are represented within its permanent collection through this online exhibition.
At the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, some 74,000 former German and Austrian citizens who resided in Britain – many who had arrived as refugees from Nazi persecution – were registered as ‘enemy aliens’ and categorised by regional tribunals, according to the level of security risk that they supposedly presented. Months later, in late spring 1940, the fear of invasion after the fall of France, concern for Fifth Column activity and resulting media agitation, led to the sudden and dramatic implementation of the Government’s mass internment policy. In the wake of newly elected Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s directive to ‘Collar the Lot!’, 27,000 emigres were apprehended and even so-called ‘friendly aliens’ were faced with immediate incarceration. With an imperfect system in place, wholesale and haphazard arrests occurred nationwide, cutting across categories, gender, families, generations, professions, religion, and political alignment, and often regardless of an individual’s well-being. Transit camps were swiftly established on the mainland - some in wholly unsuitable locations such as Kempton and Ascot racecourses, Huyton in an unoccuppied Liverpool council housing estate, and Warth Mills, an abandoned cotton mill outside Manchester – from where many internees were transferred to more permanent locations in Britain and distant parts of the Commonwealth, including Australia and Canada. Numerous émigré artists, designers and architects were inevitably caught up in this process – including those whom the Hitler regime had previously designated as ‘degenerate’ – left-wing, modernist and/or Jewish, whose work was banned – and many were shipped to the Isle of Man. The island thus found itself, at its peak in August 1940, as unwitting home to c. 14,000 men, women and children in ten camps, mostly requisitioned seaside boarding houses around Douglas: Hutchinson (the so-called ‘artists’ camp’, due to the number of renowned practitioners it housed), Onchan, Palace, Metropole, Central Promenade, Sefton and Granville, together with Peveril Camp in Peel, and Mooragh Camp in Ramsey. Around 4,000 women (including Erna Nonnenmacher and Pamina Liebert-Mahrenholz) were interned in Rushen camp, in the south west of the island, comprising Port Erin and Port St. Mary. Remarkably quickly, the internees established a cultural life across the camps. According to one statistic, 8.6% of Onchan internees were artists, writers and authors. Furthermore, the presence of distinguished academics from a range of disciplines, in camps such as Hutchinson and Onchan, resulted in a flourishing and intellectual milieu within which art would secure its own important position.
Martin Bloch (1883-1954), Ludwig Meidner (1884-1966), Alfred Lomnitz, Hugo ‘Puck’ Dachinger and Walter Nessler (1912-2001) all passed through Huyton, while Hutchinson boasted the greatest number of artists with international reputations, notably Dadaist Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948), Expressionist Meidner,Erich Kahn (1904-1980), figurative sculptors Georg Ehrlich (1897-1966, Austrian) and Siegfried Charoux (1896-1967), as well as artists whose names are less familiar today, including Herman Fechenbach, who was both painter and printmaker, sculptors Ernst Blensdorf and Paul Hamann (1891-1973), printmaker and engraver, Hellmuth Weissenborn, and painters Fritz Kraemer and Fritz Solomonski (1899-1980). Onchan’s artists and designers included: Ernst Eisenmayer, F H K Henrion, Hermann Nonnenmacher, Klaus Meyer, and Jack Bilbo, the flamboyant camp impresario who organised two exhibitions and a cabaret, while camp publications provided further creative outlets for text and image.
Internment art was characterised by the artists’ use of improvised materials, ranging from toothpaste, vegetable dyes, and brick dust mixed with oil from sardine cans, for pigments; twigs burnt to make charcoal sticks; wiry beard hair for brushes, and newspaper as a ground to paint and draw on.
Sixteen artists – both men and women – included in Ben Uri’s collection were either themselves interned, or depicted former internees, creating a rich and unique visual resource documenting this difficult time in British wartime history.
Eva Albrook (1925-2020)
Portrait of Sigmund Nissel n.d.
Pencil on paper
63.2 x 52.6 cm
Ben Uri Collection © The Estate of Eva Aldbrook
Oil on canvas
69.8 x 90 cm
Ben Uri Collection © Alva estate
Jack Bilbo (1907-1967)
Gouache on paper
46.7 x 35 cm
Ben Uri Collection © Jack Bilbo estate
Martin Bloch (1883-1954)
Svendborg Harbour, Denmark 1934
Oil on canvas on board
69 x 79 cm
Ben Uri Collection © Martin Bloch Trust
Hugo Dachinger (1908-1995)
Portrait of a Man: Wilhelm Hollitscher (Huyton Internment Camp, Liverpool) 1940
Watercolour and gouache on newsprint
61.5 x 46 cm
Ben Uri Collection © Hugo Dachinger estate
Ernst Eisenmayer (1920-2018)
Internment in Douglas 1940
Watercolour, graphite and pen and ink on paper and board
30.3 x 22.8 cm
Ben Uri Collection © Ernst Eisenmayer
Hermann Fechenbach (1897-1986)
Woodcut on paper
21.6 x 16 cm
Ben Uri Collection © Hermann Fechenbach estate
Paul Hamann (1891-1973)
Reclining Female Nude, Lying on Divan on Back, Arms Behind Head (Series: Twenty-two Life Drawings) c.1960s
Pen and ink and watercolour on paper
Ben Uri Collection © Paul Hamann estate
Erich Kahn (1904-1979)
Oil on canvas
126.5 x 101.5 cm
Ben Uri Collection © Erich Kahn estate
Pamina Liebert-Mahrenholz (1904-2004)
Pencil and pastel on paper
28 x 39.5 cm
Ben Uri Collection © Pamina Liebert-Mahrenholz estate
Alfred Lomnitz (1892-1953)
Suburban Scene (Huyton Camp) c.1940-41
Watercolour and pencil on paper
35.5 x 50.5 cm
Ben Uri Collection © Alfred Lomnitz estate
Ludwig Meidner (1884-1966)
Portrait of a Girl 1921
Charcoal on paper
68 x 50.5 cm
Ben Uri Collection © Ludwig Meidner estate
Klaus Meyer (1918-2002)
Girl in Red 1990
Woodcut on paper
45 x 36.5 cm
Ben Uri Collection © Klaus Meyer estate
Erna Nonnenmacher (1889-1980)
41 x 13 x 8.5 cm
Ben Uri Collection © Erna Nonnenmacher estate
Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948)
13.5 x 9.3 cm
Ben Uri Collection