Insiders/Outsiders, the nationwide arts festival launched in March 2019 and lasting until March 2020, not only pays long overdue tribute to the pervasive and profound cultural influence exerted on this country by those who found sanctuary here from Nazi-dominated Europe, but also embraces those (necessarily fewer in number) who, having survived the horrors of the Holocaust, arrived here after 1945. Work by artist members of the so-called 'second generation', who grapple creatively with the complex legacy of their families' experiences, is also included. At a time of increasing xenophobia and with racism on the rise, it vividly demonstrates the importance of cultural cross-fertilisation, then as now.
The festival website gives full details of the hundred or so different events taking place across the country in a wide range of media, with more being added all the time. Many of the exhibitions taking place under its umbrella draw from works held in public collections, including those of the host venues. Examples include 'Refuge: The Art of Belonging' at Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal (until 29th June 2019), 'Walter Nessler: Post-War Optimist' at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (until 6th October 2019), and 'Artist Refugees and British Art' (Royal West of England Academy, Bristol, from 14th December 2019 to 1st March 2020 and MOMA Machynlleth, spring/summer 2020).
Some of the artists included in the festival and whose work can be found in British public collections already feature on the Art UK website – although often with insufficient biographical details to alert one to the artist's origins or (sometimes little-suspected) links to the UK.
Among these are not only well-known names such as Piet Mondrian, Oskar Kokoschka, Ludwig Meidner, Frank Auerbach and Lucian Freud, but less familiar ones such as Jankel Adler, Martin Bloch, Hans Feibusch, Harry Weinberger, Hans Schwarz and Peter Midgley.
A smaller number – among them Lucian Freud, Eva Frankfurther, Albert Reuss and Josef Herman have special articles devoted to them – and it is hoped that these will increase over the coming year. But there are also artists who, despite being represented in public collections, even ones as prestigious as Tate Britain, have not yet found their way onto the Art UK website – one example being Gustav Metzger, pioneer of 'auto-destructive art', who like Freud, Auerbach and Frankfurther, came to this country as a child refugee. As Art UK continues to expand its records from its original base of oil paintings to include works on paper, sculpture and other mediums, this kind of omission will be rectified.
Much of these artists' work remains in private hands. There has, however, been a move recently on the part of some of the artists' families and/or trusts set up to manage their estates to ensure that a good selection of representative works finds a permanent home in public collections. Thus, the Cosman Keller Art and Music Trust has gifted over 1,000 drawings of musicians by consummate draughtswoman Milein Cosman to the Royal College of Music, which is in the process of being digitised. Similarly, the Marie-Louise von Motesiczky Charitable Trust has recently donated major works by this unjustifiably little-known expressionist painter to venues such as the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery, Leicester, Manchester Art Gallery and the Freud Museum in London. (Although Von Motesiczky is yet to receive more detailed coverage on the Art UK website, she does feature in this story about international women artists.)
There are also older-established resources that readers of this article may not be aware of. In 2004, for example, public funding enabled Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow to acquire over 40 harrowing works on paper created during the war by Czech-born Holocaust survivor Marianne Grant. Another notable example here is the magnificent but too-little-known collection of early twentieth-century German art housed at the above-mentioned New Walk Museum and Art Gallery. The story of how this collection came to be in Leicester is intimately bound up with the story of the Hess family, major collectors in Erfurt, Germany, who like so many other German Jews in the 1930s, were forced to flee their country of birth.
A chapter devoted to the latter features in the companion volume to the Insiders/Outsiders Festival, which (unlike the festival as a whole) focuses exclusively on the visual arts – not just the fine arts, however, but also architecture, design and photography. Comprising essays by over 20 contributors, the volume embraces not only the artists themselves, their lives and legacies but also the émigré art historians, dealers, restorers and publishers, who collectively helped transform the British art world from the distinctly insular and provincial one it was before 1945 into the emphatically outward-looking, cosmopolitan one it is proud of being today.
Monica Bohm-Duchen, art historian and Director of Insiders/Outsiders Festival