Abbot Hall exhibition focuses on artists who fled from the Nazi occupation

ABBOT Hall Art Gallery opens its revered doors this week to one of the most poignant exhibitions its probably ever held.

Refuge: The Art of Belonging tells the story of artists who came to Britain from Europe, searching for a safe haven after being displaced by the horrors of war and the Nazi occupation.

The Kendal exhibition is part of Insiders/Outsiders, a nationwide arts festival taking place throughout 2019 to celebrate refugees from Nazi Europe and their contribution to British culture. The exhibition includes work by Kurt Schwitters, Hilde Goldschmidt, Hans Coper, Lucie Rie, Oskar Kokoschka, Martin Bloch, Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach and more.

Many of the works are from Abbot Hall’s – which is owned by Lakeland Arts – own collection. The exhibition also includes private and public loans from around the UK.

Refuge: The Art of Belonging will focus on the personal experiences of the artists, offering moving, emotive and sometimes challenging stories of migration, home and belonging.

For those artists who had made the gruelling journey to the UK by sea from ports around Europe, they found themselves to be ‘enemy aliens’, interned by the state.

The two main camps were Liverpool’s Huyton Camp, where artists such as Martin Bloch were interned, and the Hutchinson Camp, in the Isle of Man, which became known as the ‘Artists Camp’, or ‘University Camp.’ It was there that Kurt Schwitters would make sculptures from leftover porridge.

French-German artist Jean ‘Hans’ Arp (1886-1966) is another artist included. Although Arp fled to Switzerland, he had a resounding effect on British Surrealist art and communicated regularly with his friend Schwitters while he lived in Cumbria.

Work by the Jewish/Polish painter and printmaker, Jankel Adler will also be on show. In the early 1930s he was working in Germany when two of his works were shown in an exhibition that deemed him a ‘degenerate artist.’ Adler was forced to leave Germany, travelling for several years around Europe, before volunteering with the Polish Army in 1939. He lost all nine of his siblings in the Holocaust. In 1949 his application for British citizenship was refused; he died shortly after.

Monica Bohm-Duchen, creative director of Insiders/Outsiders, said that the festival was an emphatically nationwide celebration of the contribution that refugees past and present make to British culture. “I’m absolutely delighted therefore that one of the first exhibitions forming part of the festival is at Abbot Hall Art Gallery, with its close connection to Kurt Schwitters, one of the most influential of all the artists who found refuge here from Nazi Europe.

“Abbot Hall is generously lending Flight, a key work by Schwitters to the Brave New Visions exhibition hosted by Sotheby’s in July. It will help tell the story of the pioneering émigré dealers to championed refugee artists in the 1940s-60s.”

The Abbot Hall exhibition particularly focuses on the work of two artists who came to the Lake District during the Second World War: Hilde Goldschmidt, a successful Expressionist artist, who died in 1980, and Kurt Schwitters, who is widely recognised as one of the most influential artists of the 20th Century. He came to live in Ambleside and died in Kendal Hospital in 1948.

Considered by many to be the first multimedia artist, working in paint, collage, poetry and installations, Schwitters developed his own style of abstract art which he termed Merz. He was driven out of Germany and fled to Ambleside. Goldschmidt and Schwitters met in the Lake District and inspired each other.

Refuge: The Art of Belonging features two portraits made by Schwitters during his internment on the Isle of Man. The first, of fellow artist Fred Uhlman and the second of Edward Driscoll, a guard at the internment camp which was painted on a panel of a tea chest (on loan from a private collection).

Goldschmidt had been a rising star of German Expressionism in the 1920s, having been the favourite pupil of Oskar Kokoschka. However, in the early 1930s the rising threat of the Nazi party was encroaching on her very existence. In March 1938 Austria was annexed to Germany. She was implored by her brother to move to England, where he already had a home and family. In March 1939 Goldschmidt and her mother left, with little money, for British shores.

Running until June 29. Telephone 01539-722464.