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Ben Uri ― The London Jewish Museum of Art

Ben Uri was founded in 1915 in Whitechapel in the heart of the Jewish East End of London by the Russian-born Jewish artist Lazar Berson. It has a fascinating history and is the longest established Jewish cultural institution in Britain. It is no coincidence the histories of the Ben Uri and that of 20th century British art are closely intertwined; the blossoming of the immigrant generations of Jewish artists was mirrored by the development of modernist painting in Britain. The outburst of creativity, which burgeoned in London's East End and gave the country so many of its 20th century masters, including the group now known as the Whitechapel Boys, also gave birth to the Ben Uri.

Frank Auerbach Mornington Crescent
Mornington Crescent ― Summer Morning II by Frank Auerbach, 2004, oil on board, courtesy of Ben Uri, The London Jewish Museum of Art

Ben Uri has the largest collection of British and other European Jewish artists in the world: close to 1200 works by over 300 artists. The collection includes many master works with a strong focus on 20th century and contemporary art. The museum has acquired over 155 works in the past decade and continues to acquire important works by major artists including Frank Auerbach, David Bomberg, Mark Gertler, Solomon J. Solomon, Josef Herman, Emmanuel Levy from the UK; Anna Ticho and Yohanan Simon from Israel; George Grosz and Max Liebermann from Germany, Marc Chagall from France and Ron Kitaj from America. It is also building a new collection of young contemporary artists’ work including David Breuer-Weil, Sophie Robertson, Julie Held, Raphael Pepper, Natan Dvir, Yaki Assayag and many more.

In the same way that, back in 1915, the Ben Uri sought to forge lasting links with the developing new movements in British modernist art, it continues today to forge new links with contemporary artists through its International Jewish Artists of the Year Award (IJAYA).

Amy Drucker For He Had Great Possessions
For He Had Great Possessions by Amy Drucker, 1932, oil on canvas, courtesy of Ben Uri, The London Jewish Museum of Art

Ben Uri’s policy is to curate a diverse range of historical and contemporary exhibitions showing work from its renowned collection and other museums in the UK and abroad. Recent exhibitions include: Bomberg's Relevance (2007); Auktion 392, Reclaiming the Gallery Stern, Dusseldorf, (2007); Isaac Rosenberg and Whitechapel at War (2008), Forced Journeys of Émigré Artists (2009); Jacques Lipchitz (2009); Apocalypse: A Lost Masterpiece by Chagall (2010); The Land of Light and Promise, Ludwig Blum (2011).

Forthcoming exhibitions in the coming season are Josef Herman, The Unknown Years 1938-44, which opens on 20 September, followed by The Soviets, Photography, War and the Shoah 1939-45 which opens in January 2012.

Mark Gertler Rabbi and Rabbitzin
Rabbi and Rabbitzin by Mark Gertler, 1914, watercolour and pencil, courtesy of Ben Uri, The London Jewish Museum of Art

Ben Uri pursues its mission 'to inspire, to connect, to make a difference' by engaging the public-at-large in a variety of programmes: collection, exhibitions, education, publications and web-based activities. Its learning programmes are readily available ‘off the internet shelf’ to some 25,000 schools across Britain. Online access to the collection via the platform of Europeana and Judaica Europeana is planned for the autumn of 2011. This will provide an ever greater international exposure to this priceless collection of art by European artists of Jewish descent.

The artists featured on this page

Frank Auerbach (born in 1931, Germany)
Auerbach, alongside Freud and Kossoff is one of Britain’s leading artists. His recurrent subjects are his personal friends and the cityscapes close to his London home in Camden such as Mornington Crescent, Summer Morning 11. Ben Uri has 11 works by Auerbach in its collection, second only to the Tate Gallery in the UK.

David Bomberg (1890–1957)
is today recognised as one of Britain’s leading 20th century artists. Along with the artists Mark Gertler, Bernard Meninsky and Isaac Rosenberg, he became known as one of the Whitechapel Boys. His early work engaging in futurism, vorticism and, to an extent, cubism was path-finding. Ben Uri has 14 works by Bomberg in its collection, second only to the Tate Gallery in the UK.

David Bomberg Ghetto Theatre
Ghetto Theatre by David Bomberg, 1920, oil on canvas, courtesy of Ben Uri, The London Jewish Museum of Art

Marc Chagall (1887–1985)
a Russian-French Jewish artist, is often referred to as the quintessential Jewish artist of the 20th century. His works include paintings, book illustrations, stained glass, stage sets, ceramics, tapestries and fine art prints. Ben Uri discovered, identified and acquired Chagall’s personal response to the Holocaust titled Apocalypse en Lilas, Capriccio in late 2009. The painting depicts a naked Jew on the cross.

Marc Chagall Apocalypse en Lilas, Capriccio
Apocalypse en Lilas, Capriccio by Marc Chagall, 1945/1947, gouache, pencil, india ink wash and india ink on paper, courtesy of Ben Uri, The London Jewish Museum of Art

Amy Drucker (1873–1951)
painted atmospheric scenes of London life, including the Jewish East End. The painting illustrated here For He Had Great Possessions was featured on the BBC programme ‘Hidden Paintings’ in June this year. Ben Uri has 5 works by Drucker in its collection.

Mark Gertler (1891–1939)
was born in the East End of London. In his early work, Gertler addressed traditional Jewish subject matter using local community members as models. He produced some of his most distinguished modernist compositions before 1920. He is known as one of the Whitechapel Boys. Ben Uri has 11 works by Gertler in its collection ― the second largest of any UK museum.

Solomon J. Solomon (1860-1927)
specialised in painting portraits and genre scenes often of monumental scale. He was one of Britain’s most successful portrait painters of the early 20th century. Ben Uri has 6 works by Solomon in its collection ― the most in any UK museum.

Solomon J Solomon The Breakfast Table
The Breakfast Table by Solomon J Solomon, 1921, oil on canvas, courtesy of Ben Uri, The London Jewish Museum of Art
Editor: Lena Stanley-Clamp, European Association for Jewish Culture, London
with contributions from Ben Uri - The London Jewish Museum of Art, Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam,
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