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Oct 2005 Journal

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Tip of a bigger iceberg (review)

ARTS IN EXILE IN BRITAIN 1933-1945:
POLITICS AND CULTURAL IDENTITY
Yearbook of the Research Centre for German and Austrian Exile Studies,
Vol. 6 (2004)
Shulamith Behr and Marian Malet (eds.)
Amsterdam/New York NY, 2005, 377pp.

This collection provides a fascinating insight into the contribution made by a number of German, Austrian and Czechoslovak refugees from Nazism to the arts in Britain. Within three categories, 'Art as Politics', 'Between the Public and Domestic' and 'Creating Frameworks, the essays explore the themes of art in internment, photography, political satire, sculpture, architecture, artists' organisations, institutional models, dealership and conservation.

Although some of the names in this volume are familiar - for instance, Klaus Hinrichsen, well-known for his accounts of interned refugee artists, and Fred and Diane Uhlman, the founders of self-help organisations for exiles - there is much that is new and revealing by way of biographical detail.

Each contributor has emphasized the influences that shaped their subject, so that they have been able to show how their background impacted on their careers once they had found a safe haven in Britain. Universally resourceful and versatile, their particular art form helped them identify within British culture. For some, like Edith Tudor-Hart and Joseph Flatter, politics informed their work: Edith Tudor-Hart's revolutionary Idealism in Austria evolved into a visual politics in Britain, which betrayed some of the political defeats she endured. Joseph Flatter's series of anti-Nazi cartoons, begun in 1938, successfully brought to public attention the scale of the threat he felt Hitler represented, and were adopted as an exhibition by national charities for the British war effort from 1940 onwards. Then there were the public monuments made by three émigré sculptors - George Ehrlich, Siegfried Charoux and Franta Belsky - which revealed their ideological attitudes as well as their working processes. Unlike many of the subjects in the book, these three all left their homelands voluntarily and never considered themselves refugees. Nor were they exiles. Instead, as émigrés (and naturalised Britains by the late 1940s), they had to recreate ruptured careers, living patterns and professional status to become successful modern artists in post-war Britain. In this, as the last four papers in this volume demonstrate, the arts community - especially in the home of Fred and Diana Uhlman in Downshire Hill, Hampstead - proved invaluable in providing assistance and support for émigrés and refugee artists.

Readers are reminded of the welcome given by the Courtauld Institute of Art and the Warburg Institute to a number of refugee artist historians and of the pivotal role played by Herbert Read, the art historian and critic, as an untiring guarantor of refugee scholars, conservators and artists. An examination of some of the frameworks created throws new light on, for example, the work of Fritz Saxl, whose experience in Austria as an art historian and, post-World War I, as an organiser of educational photographic displays, stood him in such good stead in 1938 in Britain. Then, as director of the Warburg Institute in London around 1938, he arranged photographic exhibitions to demonstrate the rich cultural heritage of the world in the face of more restrictive notions of cultural history.

As well as providing new insight into arts in exile in Britain, this volume gives wider recognition to the events that shaped the lives of so many talented individuals, to the adversity they faced as refugees, and to the contribution they made to British life. But it is the tip of a bigger iceberg, for, as the preface reminds us, a complete history of this important subject has yet to be written.
Susan Cohen

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