Nov 2002 Journal

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Continental Britons

From marginal to mainstream

German refugee art was given a ‘very bumpy ride’ in Britain at the start, a packed audience at the Jewish Museum in Camden Town was told. Speaking on the subject ‘The Welcome of Strangers: British Responses to Émigré Art and Artists in the 1930s and 1940s’, a lecture held in association with the Ben Uri Gallery, Monica Bohm-Duchen said that in the early days Expressionist art was generally regarded in Britain as inferior to the French tradition - it was seen as ‘too nervy and angst-ridden’.

Ms Bohm-Duchen, an art historian, writer and curator, described the 1937 ‘Degenerate Art’ exhibition in Germany when the Nazis ridiculed the work of Max Beckman, Emil Nolde, Oskar Kokoschka and over 200 other contemporary artists. Those included in the show, many of whom are now recognized as modern masters, were depicted as deranged and subhuman. The following year saw the staging of a ‘riposte’ anti-Nazi art exhibition in London, and in 1939 the left-wing Free German League of Culture in Great Britain put on an exhibition supported by numerous prominent British people such as Dame Sybil Thorndike. During the war years a number of highly political exhibitions, including one on art in internment camps, was held in Britain. How far Expressionist art in this country had come from the early days, Monica Bohm-Duchen said: now it was mainstream - as witnessed by the Lucian Freud exhibition at Tate Britain.

Aspects of Anglo-Jewry

The dispute over the eruv, the device which enables Orthodox Jews in a particular geographical area to carry items and push baby carriages on the Sabbath, is a ‘wholly artificial’ one, Judge Israel Finestein told a packed audience at the Jewish Museum in London’s Camden Town. Speaking at one of a number of events held to mark the Jewish Museum’s 70th anniversary year, he said that a ‘liberal approach’ dictated that ‘We should let people do as they wish’ in this matter.

The subject of Judge Finestein’s talk, and of his latest book, was ‘Scenes and Personalities in Anglo-Jewry 1800-2000’. Israel Finestein, a former President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Historical Society of England, and former Chairman of the Jewish Museum, devoted much of his talk to what he described as a central feature of Anglo-Jewry in the twentieth century: the priority it had given to the Jewish day school system begun in the 1960s. The then Chief Rabbi, Lord Jakobovits, he said, had understood that the future of Jewish identity lay with Jewish education. Within just four years he had designed and launched his greatest contribution to Anglo-Jewry, the Jewish Educational Development Trust. In place of the slogan then driving the campaign for Soviet Jewry, ‘Let My People Go’, he had written: ‘Let My People Know.’

Scenes and Personalities in Anglo-Jewry 1800-2000 is published by Vallentine Mitchell at £17.50 paperback or £35.00 cloth
HS

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