The cultural impact of émigrés from Nazi Europe
This slideshow showcases a selection of the extraordinary men and women in the National Portrait Gallery Collection who emigrated to the United Kingdom from Continental Europe during the Nazi era. It explores their enduring impact on British art, music and literature. Visit Room 30, Room 31, and Room 32 in 2019 to discover works by émigrés in our Collection which are currently on display.
This slideshow is part of Insiders/ Outsiders, a nationwide arts festival taking place from March 2019 to March 2020 to celebrate refugees from Nazi Europe and their contribution to British culture.
Berlin-born Ebert started his acting career in Frankfurt. In 1919, he founded the Frankfurt Drama College and, in 1925, became Director and Professor of the Berlin Academy of Music and Drama. By 1931, he had become Indendant of the Städtische Oper, Berlin. Despite an advantageous job offer in Berlin’s theatre world, Ebert decided to leave Germany when the Nazis came to power and emigrated to Switzerland.
In 1934, John and Audrey Christie and fellow émigré Fritz Busch invited him to the UK to help them launch the Glyndebourne Opera. He was Artistic Director there until 1959, directing almost all of the operas. His partnership with conductor Fritz Busch established Glyndebourne as a festival of international importance, a reputation it holds to this day. One of Ebert’s greatest achievements there was to establish British opera as a Gesamtkunstwerk, a synthesis of music and theatre. In 1954, Ebert accepted an invitation to resume his pre-war position at the Städtische Oper (Deutsche Oper) in Berlin and, in 1961, he directed the opening production of the new opera house in Berlin.
The Amadeus Quartet was a string quartet founded by three Jewish-Austrian émigrés and an Englishman in 1947. Norbert Brainin, Siegmund Nissel and Peter Schidlof all fled Vienna after the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938. They met during their internment as enemy aliens by the British, and after their release studied together under violin teacher Max Rostal. Through Rostal they met English cellist Martin Lovett, and went on to form the Brainin Quartet (the group’s original name). Their first performance in 1948 at London’s prestigious Wigmore Hall was a sellout. It set the tone for forty years of subsequent worldwide success together. Despite frequent differences of opinion and flaring tempers during their many years on tour, they resolutely refused to play with anyone else, and after Schidlof’s death in 1987, the quartet disbanded.
Born Emilie Cosmann in Gotha, Germany, to Jewish parents, Milein Cosman moved to Britain in 1939, where her brother was already living. She refused the identity of refugee, stating, ‘I’m not religious, I was brought up without religion, my religion is the arts […] I am not a ‘Jewish’ artist.’ She studied drawing and printmaking at the Slade, and began freelance drawing for newspapers and magazines after the war. Over a career spanning six decades, Cosman drew many of the greatest cultural figures of the twentieth century. She focused particularly on the world of music and dance, stemming from her personal love of music as well as her marriage to musician and fellow émigré Hans Keller (see her drawing of him here). This lively drawing of the Amadeus Quartet is typical of her oeuvre, deftly sketched from the life, showing the musicians at work.
Canetti was born in Bulgaria, to Sephardic Jews whose first language was Ladino, a mixture of medieval Spanish, Hebrew and Turkish. They also spoke German, the language which Canetti would later choose to write in professionally. He studied Chemistry in Vienna before emigrating to England in 1938 after the Nazis annexed Austria. He wrote essays and plays but made his name with the autobiographical novel, Die Blendung (1935) published in English as Auto-da-Fé (1946). He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1981.
Born in Vienna, Marie-Louise von Motesiczky was one of Britain’s most important émigré artists. From age thirteen, she attended art classes in her native Vienna, The Hague, Paris, Berlin and Frankfurt. Leaving Austria after the Anschluss in 1938, Motesiczky and her mother moved to Holland, the site of her debut solo exhibition in 1939 and of her first meeting with Elias Canetti. Shortly afterwards, mother and daughter moved to England and settled in Amersham on the outskirts of London, where Motesiczky became romantically involved with Canetti.
Throughout the war years, Motesiczky exhibited with the Artists’ International Association, as well as receiving her first solo exhibition in London at the Czechoslovak Institute. After the war, she moved to London where her contribution to British cultural life was revealed in an exhibition at the Goethe Institute in 1985. Subsequent exhibitions have re-established Motesiczky as an important post-war artist.
Austrian-Jewish Weidenfeld was living in Vienna when the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938. He emigrated to London and began work for the BBC Monitoring Service; by 1942 he was a political News Commentator, and in 1945 became a columnist for the News Chronicle. He was naturalised as a British citizen in 1947, and in 1948 co-founded the publishing firm Weidenfeld & Nicolson with Nigel Nicolson. This would become his most significant contribution to British culture, revolutionising the staid publishing industry with radically modern titles by international authors. Early successes included Sir Isaiah Berlin’s The Hedgehog and the Fox (1953), Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March (1954) and Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (1959). In subsequent decades, the firm became renowned as publishers of ground-breaking works on visual art, history, religion, science and biography. Later, Weidenfeld dedicated himself to philanthropy in academia, the arts and humanitarian aid. He was knighted in 1969 and made a life peer in 1976.
Kerr was born into a German-Jewish family in Berlin; her father was the prominent theatre critic Alfred Kerr. The family moved to England when Judith was thirteen years old, soon after Hitler came to power, and she spent the Second World War working for the Red Cross, before winning a scholarship to study at the Central School of Arts and Crafts. After the war, Kerr worked as a painter, textile designer and art teacher (1948-52) and later as a scriptwriter for the BBC (1952-57). Since 1968, she has written and illustrated numerous well-loved books for children including The Tiger Who Came To Tea (1968), Twinkles, Arthur and Puss (2007) and her best-known Mog series (1970-2002). Her semi-autobiographical trilogy of novels for children, collectively called Out of the Hitler Time (1971-78), tell the story of the rise of Nazis, the refugee life in wartime and post-war Britain from a child’s perspective.
Hans and Elsbeth Juda were childhood sweethearts in their home country of Germany. They married in 1931 and went to live in Berlin. When Hitler assumed power in 1933, they emigrated to London, carrying nothing but a suitcase each and a violin. There, the couple formed mutually beneficial friendships with other European exiles. Elsbeth studied under the former Bauhaus photographer Lucia Moholy-Nagy, whilst Lucia’s ex-husband, the Hungarian artist Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, became the Art Director of the Judas’ publication The Ambassador, an influential British trade magazine which became particularly important to the British export trade during the years of post-war austerity. Elsbeth’s photographs for the magazine combined the spheres of fashion and trade with trademark glamour and modernism. Over a forty-five-year-long career as a commercial photographer for titles including Harper’s Bazaar, Elsbeth photographed some of the best-known faces in British art and design, including Barbara Goalen (the first supermodel), Winston Churchill, Henry Moore and Peter Blake. Today, The Ambassador Archive of her negatives are held by the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Born in Leipzig, Nikolaus Pevsner lost his post at Göttingen University on Hitler's advent because of his Jewish ancestry, and came to Britain in 1933. His books Pioneers of Modern Design (1936) and An Outline of European Architecture (1942) established his reputation and stimulated a popular interest in art and architecture. He taught at Birkbeck College, University of London (1942-69), and was Slade Professor of Fine Art at Cambridge (1949-55). He sat on the editorial board of the Architectural Review, was art editor of Penguin Books, and in 1955 gave the Reith lectures on the 'Englishness of English Art'. The monumental forty-six-volume The Buildings of England (1951-74) remains his best-known work and most lasting contribution to British architectural history.
Painter, sculptor, illustrator and author Hans Schwarz came to Britain from German-occupied Austria in 1939, his escape made possible by the Kindertransport [children’s transport] rescue operation. He studied at Birmingham College of Art and went on to pursue a career in graphic design and illustration, whilst also teaching in various art schools. In the 1960s, he took up painting and sculpture full-time and became a portrait painter. His work characterised by the use of bold colour and he was heavily influenced by fellow artist Oskar Kokoschka. Alongside portraits, Schwarz painted landscapes in London and Somerset and wrote several books on painting and drawing.
Austrian-born art historian Ernst Gombrich studied at university in Vienna, but struggled to find employment there in the 1930s due to his Jewish heritage and the state’s anti-Semitic policies. In 1936, he emigrated to London with his wife, the concert pianist Ilse Heller, joining the staff of the Warburg Institute, an art history library which had been moved to London from Hamburg to save it from Nazi pillaging in 1934. He was the Director and Professor of History of the Classical Tradition there from 1959 to 1976. His book The Story of Art (1950) became one of the most widely-read and influential general introductions to art history; his later works include Art and Illusion (1960), a study of the psychology of pictorial representation, Norm and Form (1966) and The Sense of Order (1979). He was knighted in 1972 and awarded the Order of Merit in 1988.
Born in Berlin, Frank Auerbach was sent to England by his parents as a seven-year-old refugee from Nazi Germany in 1939. His parents both died in 1942 while in Nazi concentration camps. He spent the remainder of his childhood at a progressive boarding school for Jewish refugee children in Kent. Taking British nationality in 1947, Auerbach trained at Saint Martin's School of Art (1948-52), under David Bomberg at Borough Polytechnic at evening classes, and at the Royal College of Art (1952-5). He developed a distinctive style of thickly impastoed paintings which are often reworked over long periods, and heavily worked drawings that evolve from repeated revision. His subjects are confined to a handful of close friends and family, or to scenes of the North London area in which he continues to be resident.
This photograph shows Auerbach as a young art student, sketching at the London City Council’s open air exhibition of paintings in Victoria Embankment Gardens, near the Thames.
Lucie Rie was born in Vienna to Benjamin Gomperz, a Jewish medical doctor and consultant to Sigmund Freud. She studied pottery at the Vienna Kunstgewerbeschule (school of art and design), before setting up her own studio in 1925 and becoming a successful and respected ceramicist. Rie fled Vienna for London after the Nazi’s annexed Austria in 1938, and spent the war years there making ceramic buttons and jewellery to support herself.
After the war she employed fellow émigré and struggling sculptor Hans Coper (1920-1979) as her assistant. Her studio near Hyde Park became renowned for the hospitality guests received there in the form of tea and cake. Rie taught at Camberwell College of Arts from 1960 to 1972, and only stopped working after a series of strokes in the 1990. She was made a Dame in 1991 and is now remembered as one of Britain’s most eminent studio potters, producing brightly-coloured modernist vases, bottles and bowls. Her work is held in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, York Art Gallery, Victoria and Albert Museum and the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh.
Oskar Kokoschka is widely regarded as one of the leading Expressionist painters of the twentieth century. He trained at the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts (1905-9), and in1909 wrote and designed the first Expressionist play Murderer, Hope of Women, which caused a public scandal. He was severely wounded in the First World War, but recovered and taught at Dresden Academy (1919-23). In the 1930s, Kokoschka’s paintings were classed as ‘degenerate’ by the Nazi regime. His work was included in the infamous Entartete Kunst exhibition in Munich in 1937, organised by the Nazis to ridicule and denounce modern art. Kokoschka left Austria in 1934 and lived for some time in Prague, where he met his future wife Olda. By 1938, the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia was imminent and the couple fled to London, where Kokoschka became a vitally active member of the artistic émigré community. He was naturalised as a British citizen in 1947. Characterised by an emotive use of colour and line, his portraits focus on the inner life of the sitter.
In the 1930s, German-born Erica Brausen moved to Paris aged twenty-one where she became a prominent figure in artistic circles, before moving to London at the start of the war. She began her career in art dealing at the Redfern Gallery, before opening the Hanover Gallery in 1947 with the backing of American banker and gallery owner, Arthur Jeffress. For twenty-five years, the gallery was hugely important in the international art world, hosting Francis Bacon's first solo exhibition in 1949 which sparked an artist-dealer relationship that flourished for ten years. Brausen went on to become the sculptor Alberto Giacometti’s principal London art dealer, and exhibited prominent modern artists such as Lucian Freud, Marcel Duchamp, Henry Matisse, Man Ray, Marx Ernst and Henry Moore. This photograph shows Brausen in her gallery, which remained open until 1973.