The Exhibition of German-Jewish Artists' Work at Parsons' Galleries London (1934): The Lost Exhibition

לזכר האומנים והאומניות שהיציגו יצירות

בלונדון ב 1934 וניספו בשואה

Rudolf Ernst, Zagreb 1941 (suicide)

Lotte Schönberg-Ernst, Jasenovac (Zagreb) 1942

Bruno Gimpel, Dresden 1943 (suicide)

Julius Graumann, Auschwitz 1944

Marie Heilbronner, Theresienstadt 1943

Rosie Lilienfeld, Auschwitz 1942

Maria Luise Luiko, Kaunas 1941

Alice Michaelis, Theresienstadt 1943

Arno Nadel, Auschwitz 1943

Hermann Segall, Kaunas 1941

Rahel Szalit, Auschwitz 1942

Elisabeth Weiss, Kaunas 1941

Julie Wolfthorn, Theresienstadt 1944

In the autumn of 1933, the Jewish Refugees Committee (JRC) at Woburn House, London, commissioned Wiesbaden refugee art dealer, consultant and appraiser Carl Braunschweig to organise and manage a selling-exhibition of works by persecuted German artists. This was the Exhibition of German-Jewish Artists’ Work which, after many delays, opened on 5 June 1934 in Parsons’ Galleries – the showrooms of Thomas Parsons & Sons, Ltd., on Oxford Street – a commercial paint manufacturer for the transport and decorating industries. The exhibition presented more than 235 works by 86 artists of whom 36 had fled Nazi Germany for France, The Netherlands, Luxembourg, Spain, Switzerland, Palestine and the United Kingdom. The remaining 50 submitted works from inside Germany with the largest contingent coming from Berlin. British customs regulations impacted heavily on the import of sculpture and works done in ink. As a result, the exhibition consisted largely of paintings, prints, pencil and charcoal drawings. It was extended until 22 June. The exhibition, which was originally intended to tour, was the second exhibition of works by persecuted German-Jewish artists presented outside Nazi Germany after the 1933 Exposition du Comité français pour la Protection des Intellectuels Juifs persécutés in Paris.

The JRC, the newly founded London Jewish Museum and the Ben Uri Gallery were all under one roof at Woburn House – erroneously identified in the German exile press as “Vauban”. The Exhibition of German-Jewish Artists’ Work, which followed directly on the heels of the Ben Uri Gallery’s inaugural exhibition, connected London and Berlin during a politically volatile time for the Jews of Germany. The hyphenated identity of “German-Jewish” in its title reflects the contentious question of the time. Woburn House found its German counterpart in the Berlin Jewish Community’s building complex on Oranienburger Strasse where the Berlin Jewish Museum had opened on 24 January 1933 – only six days before Adolf Hitler became Chancellor. In the spring of 1933, the Museum served as base for the artists’ aid and advisory agency known as the Künstlerhilfe der Jüdischen Gemeinde – the first of the contact points for Jewish performing and visual artists who had been cut off from the broader public by the ressentiments and racial policies of the Nazi regime. Braunschweig, who was himself attempting to start anew as an art dealer in London, collaborated long-distance with art historians Franz Landsberger and Erna Stein to realise the exhibition. Stein had become interim director of the Berlin Jewish Museum following the departure of director and Künstlerhilfe co-founder Karl Schwarz for Tel Aviv. Landsberger, who had been stripped of his position at the Schlesische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität in Breslau [Wrocław] and had relocated to Berlin in the autumn of 1933, was at the time pursuing an academic or curatorial position in London.

This first study of the exhibition merges provenance and biographical research. It is based largely on hitherto unpublished and untranslated primary sources from public and private archives beginning with a review of the first months of the Nazi era and a historical positioning of the notion Kulturbolschewismus [Cultural Bolshevism]. Its biography of Carl Braunschweig includes treatments of the family’s orthodox Jewish Hotel Braunschweig in Bad Homburg v. d. H. and the Kunstsalon Aktuaryus in Wiesbaden, the latter of which Braunschweig acquired in 1919. Both the Kunstsalon and the hotel (for which historical guest lists still exist) reveal unique connections with London – including with the family of British Chief Rabbi Nathan Marcus Adler, founder of the Jews’ College at Woburn House. The annotated analysis of the birth and development of the Exhibition of German-Jewish Artists’ Work is anchored in the timeline and content provided by Braunschweig’s correspondence with the Central-Verein deutscher Staatsbürger jüdischen Glaubens as Berlin intermediary. It encompasses a tentative reconstruction of the exhibition space and underlying curatorial concept superimposed upon historical blueprints of Parsons’ Galleries; reproductions of rare contemporary print materials from Herbert Loewenstein’s Berlin press showing a small number of works exhibited in London; and an accounting for the exhibition’s usurped position in art history. The full exhibition catalogue and all reviews are included in the Appendix.

Franz Landsberger, a temporary visitor to London, and the National Gallery’s famous conservator and picture restorer Helmut Ruhemann, who had fled to Britain permanently after having been forced out of Berlin’s Kaiser Friedrich Museum, both lectured at the newly founded Courtauld Institute and at Parsons’ Galleries during the exhibition’s two-and-a-half week run. Based on the works it presented and the discourse it opened, it is the 1934 Exhibition of German-Jewish Artists’ Work, and not the exhibition which took place in London four years later, that is rightful claimant to the distinction of having been the first exhibition of 20th century German art in Britain.

Abstract, M.A. Thesis. Buckingham University in association with the National Gallery London. © 2020, Karolina Hyży.

This substantial study is currently being readied for publication in an extended form. 

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