‘I HEAR ONLY WHAT MY EYES TELL ME’: TWO JEWISH WOMEN ÉMIGRÉ SCULPTORS: ELSA FRAENKEL (18921975) AND ERNA NONNENMACHER (1889-1989) RACHEL DICKSON EXTRACT FROM This is the full, original essay. DATE 2021. SOURCE This paper was first presented on the occasion of The Drawing Research Forum, The Drawing Room, London, Nov 1st 2019 & subsequently revised for Becoming Gustav Metzger, Uncovering the Early Years 1945-49, The Ben Uri Gallery & Museum, London.
‘I hear only what my eyes tell me’: Two Jewish Women Émigré Sculptors: Else Fraenkel (1892-1975) and Erna Nonnenmacher (1889-1989) On 1 July 1947 Ben Uri Art Gallery at its townhouse at 14 Portman Street, London, W1, opened an exhibition accompanied by a simple red printed catalogue entitled Painting by Walter Trier and Sculpture by Else Fraenkel and Erna Nonnenmacher.1 This display, as the foreign-sounding names of the exhibitors suggested, was typical of Ben Uri’s continued commitment – which was not in any way formalised – to support the increasing number of Jewish émigré artists who had been settling in London since the early 1930s. 2 It also unintentionally demonstrates a longstanding support for women artists – who currently make up 28% of the permanent collection – a significantly larger figure than for many national and regional collections, where it is often around 4-5%.3 Ben Uri had been founded further east in London’s Whitechapel ghetto in July 1915,4 in the midst of the First World War, as an art society for newly arrived Ostjuden artists and craftsmen – Yiddish speaking, Orthodox immigrants primarily from the Russian Pale of Settlement – who were unable to access the cultural bastions of assimilated Anglo-Jewry. The society’s aim, beyond that of exhibition forum, was to celebrate Jewish cultural endeavour in its broadest forms, and to establish the basis for a museum of so-called Jewish art. Indeed, the biblical name chosen, after Bezalel Ben Uri, decorator of the Tabernacle, confirmed its scope beyond fine art alone.5 Two decades later, with its focus shifted away from the East End, and its lingua franca now English, as the first wave of émigrés became more prosperous and integrated, Ben Uri was again operating as exhibition platform and cultural hub for a second wave of mainly German speaking émigrés, now fleeing Nazi persecution. Between 1933-1945 more than 300 painters, sculptors, graphic designers, illustrators and architects,6 both Jews and non-Jews, sought refuge in Britain and from 1934, Ben Uri’s catalogues reveal that more than 50 émigrés, primarily German and Austrian, but also Hungarian, Czech, Polish, Romanian, and from the Baltic states, exhibited in its annual open shows, with a consistently strong presence in sculpture. In September 1933, when Secretary Marcus Lipton published his strongly worded statement, ‘Jewish Artists will be lost to Jewry without Jewish Support’ in the Jewish Chronicle,7 he was reminding Anglo-Jewry to support its own; the following summer Ben Uri hosted the
first of its annual open exhibitions. However, this admonishment became altogether broader and more urgent as the situation deteriorated in Europe, and it was increasingly evident that the Society’s duty was to assist the growing number of émigré artists. Chillingly, in summer 1944, the catalogue announced: ‘in light of the total ruin of Europe by the Nazis, the work undertaken by the Society has become of even greater significance.’ 8 This chapter focuses on two German Jewish émigré women sculptors, Else (Elsa) Fraenkel (1892-1975) and Erna Nonnenmacher (1889-1989), who both sought refuge in London, tracing their respective trajectories as they attempted to continue their former careers as portrait sculptor and ceramicist/sculptor respectively, whilst overcoming issues relating to their complex identities as émigrés, Jews and women. Else Fraenkel (née Betty Elisabeth Rothschild) was born into a prosperous Bensheim family but grew up in Heidelberg. She took early drawing lessons in Brussels, studied History of Art at Heidelberg University, and drawing and sculpture at Karlsruhe Academy. Following marriage to lawyer, Georg Fraenkel, she relocated to Hannover, remaining there until 1933, the year of her divorce, of Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor and the rise in anti-Semitic legislation. Around 1919 she joined the social circle of local artist, the renowned Dadaist Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948), becoming part of a small group of women surrounding him, who ‘fulfilled - and this was quite new - several roles at once: they were bourgeois […], they had children, and were nevertheless professional artists or had other careers. They could be self-reliant, financially independent and be politically active, without having to conform to the cliché of the trouser-clad ‘new woman’ with her short hair and cigarette’9 – the latter comment perhaps referring to more modish figures such as Hanna Hoch. Schwitters’ reviewed Die Frau als Künstlerin in the Hannoversche Tageblatt in 1928 as he knew three of the local women artists, including Fraenkel (listed as: ‘Bildhauerin, Hannover.’10) An early portrait head in plaster is notable for its simplicity and defiant anti- modernism, despite these connections with the avant-garde. Despite family commitments, Fraenkel engaged fully in the artistic life of Hannover, exhibiting at the Kestnergesellschaft, founded in 1916 to promote modern art, and with GEDOK (Association of Female Artist Communities and Patrons of the Arts), finding these organisations particularly congenial in contrast to the formal atmosphere of a city she found ‘somewhat cold and distant’, and where wives were often addressed by their husband’s title. She also showed at the Galerie von Garvens, owned by industrialist and art collector, Herbert
von Garvens, who also exhibited Schwitters. Fraenkel’s daughter suggests that she was introduced to a number of sitters by von Garvens ‘who had an extensive circle of friends and acquaintances.’11 Writing about her career in the Hannoverschen Anzeiger at the age of 40, Fraenkel recalled: ‘One did not plan anything extraordinary for me. I was to become a housewife,’ adding that ‘only introspection and unending patience will lead the work to the heights of art. I am lucky to have been a wife and mother, which has constrained my time, but, as I believe I can say, has propelled the intensity of my work.’12 From the mid-1920s she began to travel between Hannover and Paris with Käte Steinitz (1889-1975), also part of Schwitters’ circle. Schwitters later dedicated a collage to Fraenkel in 1928, in which the words ‘PARIS’ appears.13 Returning annually, she studied under Jacques Loutchansky, moved in the circles of Brâncuși, Despiau, Maillol, Léger and others and eventually established a studio in Montrouge in 1933.14 She also maintained a lively correspondence in French with Piet Mondrian.15 Influenced by Despiau’s portraits and ancient art in the Louvre, she worked with bronze, pewter and silver, retaining a noted antimodernist approach - portrait sculpture was an area in which woman were advancing despite its lesser role within the avant-garde. In October 1931 one of her sculptures was the cover image of the periodical Kunst und Mode,16 whilst the following year, Cahiers D’Art reported from ‘Hanovre’ on an ‘Exposition des sculptures de Mme Elsa Fraenkel qui excelle surtout dans la sculpture des portraits.’17 This was perhaps a reference to her show at the Kunsthandlung Victor Hartberg, Berlin, which was noted in Die Weltkunst in September.18 She also exhibited with Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (1884-1976, one of the founders of Die Brücke group), showing nine sculptures at the Gesellschaft der Freunde Junger Kunst in Braunschweig in February,19 whilst the prestigious Galerie Albert Flechteim in Berlin confirmed display of her mask in their ‘Junge Künstler’ exhibition.20 Fraenkel began to sculpt life size busts of striking individuals she encountered in her daily life, including professors and students at the Sorbonne. In varied materials, none were commissioned, but were frequently exhibited back in Germany. One of Fraenkel’s works was purchased in 1927 by the Landesmuseum, Hannover, and is now in the collection of the Sprengel Museum. One of the most prestigious German foundries, its 30th anniversary publication in 1927 lists high profile clients including Cassirer, Flectheim and Gurlitt galleries.21
Fraenkel’s work of this period is marked by stylised facial features with few contours, the archaic simplification showing her engagement with Egyptian art. In addition, she produced works with the Valsuani foundry, established in 1899, casting mostly small works for distinguished sculptors, including Rodin, Maillol, Giacometti and Brancusi. In 1935, Fraenkel finally immigrated to London, after her son’s boarding school relocated, and she wisely brought copies of works with her. One sculpture was subsequently acquired by the Tate Gallery in 1952. 24 Having rented a flat in Notting Hill on arrival, during 1938 - the year her daughter and mother arrived from Germany - Fraenkel established a studio/home at 54 Charlbert Court, St. Johns Wood, London, centre of the Jewish émigré ‘ghetto’. She was initially supported by remittances from her parents’ business, and was able to enter Britain, thankfully not as a domestic, often the grim option faced by many women émigrés who could not demonstrate income or a sponsor. Furthermore, the Jewish Refugee Committee paid for her daughter to attend boarding school on the South coast until, with the declaration of war in September 1939, all ‘enemy aliens’ had to leave coastal areas, and she was sent home; Fraenkel eventually relocated to Loughton, Essex during the Blitz. Fraenkel made swift advances into the London art world. By June 1935 she was already studying sculpture at the LCC Central School of Arts and Crafts,25 whilst correspondence with Sir William Rothenstein, recently retired as Principal of the Royal College of Art, indicates a warm relationship, Fraenkel having already sat to him on at least one occasion. 26 She also maintained links with refugee circles, sculpting a bust of Anna Schwab, member of the German Jewish Aid Committee in London. 27 Fraenkel’s first recorded exhibit in London was with the prestigious Leicester Galleries in 1935 – the ‘place to exhibit in the metropolis as an ambitious cosmopolitan sculptor’ 28 – in which she showed six works, including a portrait of the poet Mallarme’s granddaughter. A note from William Rothenstein in September mentioned the show and enclosed a postcard from gallerist Alfred Flectheim (1878-1937) describing Fraenkel as a ‘very gifted sculptor.’ 29 The following year she showed in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition30 and participated in Ben Uri’s annual open show. As the roster of exhibitors’ names reveals, the exhibition straddled the first and second waves of Jewish émigré participation. Fraenkel’s work, brought from Germany, was displayed alongside works by earlier émigrés – including Abrasha Lozoff (1887-1936).31 Although archive records are scant, Fraenkel clearly established a
connection with Ben Uri; the Art Committee in July 1936 suggested works by both Emanuel Levy and Fraenkel.32 She was also commissioned to create a portrait of Haham Sir Moses Gaster, Head of the Sephardi community; however, full payment must have taken time - a postcard a decade later from Fraenkel to Sadie Buchler, curator, confirms settlement of £188.8.131.52 The Jewish Chronicle for June 4, 1937 referred to its display at the Leicester Galleries, ‘on the occasion of his eightieth birthday’,34 whilst Gaster wrote engagingly to Fraenkel in the autumn: People seem to admire my bronze head. (Unlike) the real living one which has had stones thrown at it, let‘s hope this one is spared and that someone will look after it. The man who sees a prophet's head in it can't know much about prophets. He must have talked himself into seeing it! [….] In fact, it is the expression of a man who has been through and seen a lot, thought a lot and had many disappointments but who holds steadfastly to his beliefs despite this. But I can't critique my own head! 35 Fraenkel was also established in non-Jewish circles, showing work at the 36th exhibition of the Women’s International Art Club, under the presidency of Ethel Walker. 36 Her work was shown at the Royal Scottish Academy and she gifted one sculpture to Leighton House, the Kensington museum home of Victorian painter Frederick Lord Leighton, which also displayed his influential sculpture. Correspondence shows that she formed a friendship with Sir Alfred Rice Oxley, (a tender sketch of the elderly councillor remains in the Fraenkel archive), former Mayor of Kensington and Chelsea, Physician Ordinary to Princess Beatrice, who oversaw the transfer of ownership of Leighton House to the Borough Council in 1926. Subsequently appointed its first curator in 1927,37 he permitted the museum to accept a range of artworks, including Fraenkel’s sculpture, beyond its Victorian focus, without establishing a clear policy of continued public display into the future.38 1940, the year of internment, was marked by much artistic activity. Fraenkel was exempted, (unlike Nonnenmacher) when Churchill announced ‘collar the lot’ of German speaking aliens in spring 1940, her archives revealing supportive letters from art world notables such as Cecil Philips of the Leicester Galleries: ‘I have every reason to believe that she is highly honourable and respectable; and that she is loyal to the country of her adoption.’ 39 One of Fraenkel’s sculptures was exhibited in the United Artists Exhibition at the Royal Academy in January40 and in May The Times reported that Fraenkel was the main focus in an exhibition of sculpture and drawings by 51 artists at the British Art Centre at the Stafford Gallery in St. James’s.41 Other sculptors included: Epstein, Hepworth, Skeaping, Hermes, Lambert, and
fellow émigré, Dora Gordine, with whom Fraenkel shared an interest in the non-western. Both women often exhibited and socialised in similar circles, but they were not close.42 Fraenkel’s daughter confirmed: ‘Else knew Dora Gordine but they were not friends. They were just contemporaries who would meet by chance at an exhibition’;43 the subtext may have been that friendship was not possible due to a degree of professional rivalry. Fraenkel subsequently wrote in a distinctive green hand, and with a charmingly German turn of phrase, to the Chief Librarian of the Borough, to thank him for loaning her work to the Stafford Gallery, attending the private view, and enquiring how she might return it.44 She then borrowed it again in autumn 1948 to show at Modern Masters and Artists of Today at 20 Brook Street.45 Her note touchingly reveals a sensitivity towards her female peers – she unhesitatingly recommends the work of painters Ethel Walker and Cora Gordon,46 asking that a visit to the former’s studio by Sir Rice Oxley be arranged. Expressing gratitude, both to these women and to unspecified ‘greatest masters living [who] have been generous and kind to me’, she added: ‘Please, never listen what artists say about others. Because often they are unjust […] I hear only what my eyes tell me. Artists do often harm to each other.’47 Fraenkel was less prolific during the war years, her private income from Germany lost, and her identity briefly stolen by a German spy. However, her son’s war work on the mosquito bomber exempted him from internment and enabled him to support his mother. Fraenkel exhibited two works in the RA Summer show in 1941, sharing the catalogue page with émigrés Benno Elkan48 and Hermann Nonnenmacher, and with Franta Belsky in 1943. She showed in Ben Uri’s high-profile opening exhibition in its new premises in January 1944, (using the anglicised version of her first name, ‘Elsa’ in the catalogue, which she changed to, after about seven years in her new homeland, although she was still to appear as ‘Else’ in Ben Uri’s 1947 three person show), the émigré contribution to the event perhaps bolstered by the efforts of short-lived secretary/curator, Fritz Solomonski (1899-1980), himself a German refugee and an interned artist. She subsequently cultivated a friendship with Ethel Solomon, Solomonski’s successor, sculpting a portrait of her young daughter, Shirley, which was exhibited in Ben Uri’s Fortieth Anniversary exhibition in summer 1956.49 Her diverse professional connections at this time included Bond Street gallerist Sidney Sabin, of the Frank T Sabin Gallery, and the distinguished historian of Indian art, Dr. Stella Kramrisch, both of whom she modelled.50
After the war, Fraenkel continued to exhibit earlier works from Germany and Paris, and maintained her links with Ben Uri, showing in the 1947 group show in July. In August the art historian Dr Helen Rosenau wrote in newly founded Association of Jewish Refugees Information: ‘It is worth noting that the plastic arts, neglected by Jews for generations for traditional reasons, now stake a claim of resurgent force, and that women contribute powerfully to this monumental form of expression’51 singling out ‘Fraenkel and Emmy Wolff-Furth’ amongst German émigré women. Rosenau added that ‘Many of the artists mentioned have exhibited at the Royal Academy, have held one-man shows and are also represented in the Ben Uri Gallery, catering more specifically for Jewish art’, describing the precarious position that these émigré women occupied, simultaneously lurking somewhere between assimilation and communal isolationism. In the same year Fraenkel also reconnected with Schwitters, now in exile in northern England. Though not close, their letters indicate a friendship of equal colleagues. Fraenkel suggested he should pursue opportunities in Hollywood, mentioning a connection: ‘One can often suggest something to another, for which oneself is too shy.’52 She also invited him to visit her in Essex with his new girlfriend, recalling that she had brought ‘9 paintings of yours with me. One of them is in my studio.’53 Fraenkel was also formally naturalised in 1947. She had taken an English surname to become ‘Elizabeth Dane’ in daily life – this very English-sounding identity (though there was an irony in the choice of surname) sitting at odds with her previous professional, Germansounding moniker: ‘Else Fraenkel’. The surname change was initiated in 1946 by her daughter who had joined the Auxilliary Territorial Service (ATS) and for fear of sounding too German, had plucked the name at random from a local phone directory. It is worth noting that this loss of identity via a name change afflicted women artists perhaps more than their male counterparts, often making tracing their trajectories more complicated: as well as gaining and losing names of fathers and/or husbands, they may also appear tantalisingly ungendered in catalogues which show only a first initial – when the tendency is then to assume the work is by a male artist.
From the late 1940s, Fraenkel consolidated her career (though stellar success remained elusive). In early 1948, the Jewish Museum, New York, accepted one of Frankel’s busts. Morley College confirmed her as a temporary course teacher for ‘Portrait Drawing and Sculpture’ during the session 1949-50,54 her course listed directly below Hermann
Nonnenmacher’s ‘Modelling’ in the syllabus. 55 She was also a fully-paid up member of Ben Uri,56 where she continued to exhibit until the early 1960s, showing a bust in the Society’s 1951 ‘Anglo-Jewish Exhibition 1851 – 1951 Art Section’, held as part of the Festival of Britain. The bust was subsequently lent to the ‘Contemporary Jewish Artists Exhibition’ at Zion House, Hampstead in 1956 (Erna Nonnenmacher exhibited the following year).57 Her membership of the RSA was confirmed in 1954, 58 though it seems she did not join the RBS, despite the President, William Reid Dick, writing encouragingly to her in May 1950. 59 Fraenkel strengthened her links with Asian cultures and continued to hover in the same circles as Dora Gordine; Leonard Elton of the British Council was prompted to contact her following a conversation with Gordine at ‘Lord Inchcape’s party.’ 60 Both Fraenkel and Gordine showed in The Arts Unite East And West; An exhibition of Work by Past and Present Members of the Royal India Ceylon and Pakistan Society held at Foyles Gallery from January 3-24, c. 1962, demonstrating their shared interest in the non-western. Augustus John, Jacob Epstein, Rabindranath Tagore and William Rothenstein were amongst other exhibitors – Rothenstein having originally founded its precursor, The India Society. The sculpture selection was declared ‘exceedingly important.’ 61 In the early1950s Fraenkel posthumously sculpted the head of Ethiopian Princess Tsahai, daughter of Emperor Haile Selassie.62 A Festival Garden Party to celebrate the forthcoming opening of the Princess Tsahai Memorial Hospital in Addis Ababa was held at Bedford College on July 10, 195l, at which distinguished actors Wendy Hiller and Sir Donald Wolfitt spoke and Fraenkel arranged a display of ‘great works from private collections’; lenders included Fraenkel herself and Moshe Oved, proprietor of the jewellers’ Cameo Corner, and founder member and financial supporter of Ben Uri in its early years. 63 Through the hospital initiative, Fraenkel cultivated a friendship with Sylvia Pankhurst, Honorary Secretary of the London-based funding committee, whom she met in 1950, mostly like through her friendship with Lady Winstedt and Princess Viazemsky (1893-77), daughter of H.G. Selfridge. Correspondence in the Women’s Library illuminates Fraenkel’s part in organising an exhibition of Pankhurst’s early artworks from her time with the Women's Social & Political Union, at the French Institute in December 1959. After Pankhurst’s death in 1960, Fraenkel offered her portrait sketch to the National Portrait Gallery, which was declined, as they already had one.
Fraenkel continued to organise Ethiopian cultural events in London, as a Council member for the Royal Society for India, Pakistan and Ceylon; the Sunday Standard from Delhi in April 1952 noted her fascination with Indian faces: ‘they have something of the peace of Lord Buddha’.64 In 1961 the Royal Society presented a silver bronze bust by Fraenkel of Queen Sirikit of Thailand for display in the Royal Palace, Bangkok, ornamented with diamonds for the eyes and coronet. Fraenkel also sculpted a portrait of Pandit Nehru. Eventually in failing health, Fraenkel relocated to live with her daughter, (who had moved to India in 1949), leaving the bulk of her sculpture and archive with her son in Britain. Some of her works remain in public collections including Church of St Michael and All Angels, Dumfries, Ben Uri Collection, and at Tate; later international portraiture reflects her continued interest in non-western cultures including busts of prominent figures from India such as Queen Sirikit, the Dalai Lama and Sri Aurobindo. To sum up, Fraenkel seems to have navigated a path with some success both within Jewish and non-Jewish artistic circles; her commissions outside the UK reflecting a lifelong interest in sitters with exotic identities. Yet, as with many émigré artists, she seems to have failed to establish a consistent mainstream reputation, following the fracture of her early career. It is as if she neatly fulfilled her early self-proclaimed destiny: wife, mother – but also sculptor. It is not known if she was disappointed in this.
Erna Nonnenmacher’s trajectory tells a very different story. From her first mention in the British press in early 1938, she was yoked to her non-Jewish husband, fellow émigré, Hermann Nonnenmacher (1892-1988). Husband and wife sculptors in exile, they worked as colleagues, were interned at the same time and frequently exhibited together, even at Ben Uri - Hermann was Gentile, but perhaps deemed sufficiently Jewish by association. This close pairing throws into relief Erna’s own successes and failures, as they can consistently be measured against those of Hermann. Furthermore, their earliest opportunities were bound up with their identities as refugees, their circumstances highlighted in June 1939 in the Jewish Chronicle review of the First Group Exhibition of German, Austrian, Czechoslovakian Painters and Sculptors exhibition at the Wertheim Gallery, the first show under the auspices of the newly-founded Free German League of Culture, in which Erna showed her typically feminine work whilst Hermann exhibited work concerned with broader, more topical themes:
Each has a story to tell. Most cannot be made public for fear of what the Gestapo will do to relatives or friends. But I can tell you about Hermann Nonnenmacher, who is a non-Jew married to a Jewess and who was asked by the Nazis to stay - on condition that he divorced his wife.’67 Studying at the progressive, liberal (and Jewish-owned) Reimann Schule in Berlin; the Kunstgewerbeschule for Art and Crafts; and the Technical School for Ceramics in Brunzlau, before marriage to Hermann in 1919, Erna was a member of GEDOK in Berlin, and was employed by the renowned Rosenthal porcelain factory as modeller and at Fraureuth as a sculptress.68 Whilst she pursued commercial success, Hermann made large-scale public sculptures which the Nazi regime considered ‘degenerate’. Both shared a studio in Potsdam which had previously belonged to émigré artist Lyonel Feininger, until February 1938, when they immigrated to England. Unlike Fraenkel, Erna was unable to escape internment despite her professional qualifications. She was held in Holloway prison before both husband and wife were interned on the Isle of Man; Erna in Rushen Woman’s camp and Hermann in Onchan, where he was active as an illustrator for the camp magazine. In September 1940, the Jewish Chronicle's art critic published 'Forty Artists Interned', railing against the ‘unimaginative stupidity’ of the internment of artists, and noting that alongside ‘Johnny [sic] Heartfield’, ‘Fred Uhlmann’, ‘Martin Bloch’ and ‘Ludwig Meidner’, ‘Mr and Mrs Nonnenmacher’ were ‘languishing behind barbed wire’.69 Due to an administrative anomaly, the documented presence of both Nonnenmachers on the Isle of Man is partly due to Erna’s own internment; male registration information only exists if the individual was married and/or if he wrote/drew something for a camp newspaper and /or is named in an oral history testimony. Manx National Heritage holds Erna’s registration card with her poignantly clear photograph, recording that she left the island on February 14, 1941 after a tribunal. As with most women artist internees, Erna’s legacy is tiny: one ceramic tile made from clay allegedly found at Port Erin and fired at the Glenfaba Brickworks, its design inspired by the local Calf of Man stone carving.
An undated photograph from the archive of émigré sculptor, Inge King (1915 - 2016, a former apprentice to Hermann), c. 1940, shows the couple sitting atop a horse-drawn cart, laden with their sculptures, in the process of moving from Camden Town to 49 Hornsey Lane Gardens, north London.70 At this time, many émigrés were nurtured by a network of fellow
German speaking refugees, a number of whom had endured internment together. Sheila Lahr, daughter of Charles Lahr (1885-1971, émigré anarchist, publisher and owner of the Progressive Bookshop in Red Lion Street, Holborn, who consulted a list of fellow internees on his release), recalled: Occasionally, we visit Hermann Nonnenmacher, also on my father’s list, and his wife who are both sculptors […]. Nonnenmacher had been a well-known sculptor in Germany and his works had adorned many public buildings. His wife Jewish, he had chosen to go into exile with her. […] the ground floor of their Archway house forms one large studio in which stand figures emerging from the stone and those struggled out, set in one position as if frozen. […] They are childless and the stone people to which their hands give birth are more to them than flesh and blood.71 Soon after the ending of internment, both participated in the November 1941 joint AIA and FGLC Exhibition of Sculpture and Drawing. In the catalogue foreword, entitled ‘Sculpture and Pottery’, writer and critic Herbert Read declared: ‘Only in its tri-dimensional world does art attain its completeness’, acknowledging that these artists ‘[…] have been uprooted, deprived of their studios, their materials, their very tools. They work tentatively with great difficulty without adequate economic support in their exile. But even so they represent a tradition of which we in England know too little.’ 72 Few English artists participated, including the ceramicist Bernard Leach; the majority were refugees. Nevertheless, broad press coverage included The Studio, Observer and Die Zeitung. In October, 1945, only weeks after the end of the war, Erna and Hermann both participated in Sculpture in the Home at the Mansard Gallery above Heal’s furnishing store in central London, also held under the auspices of the AIA. 73 The first in a series of touring shows with the same name, sculpture was shown progressively in ‘an intimate setting of furniture and textiles rather than the more conventional atmosphere of the ordinary gallery exhibition.’ 74 The exhibition sub-committee included émigrés Georg Ehrlich (sculptor) and F H K Henrion (graphic designer); hence refugee participation was notable; furthermore, a significant proportion of women sculptors participated and domestic/familial themes were conspicuous. From 1949-1970 Hermann taught modelling and pottery at Morley College for adult education,75 where Erna is credited as working with him officially from 1962-69, though notes in the Royal British Society of Sculptors’ (RBS) archives suggest she was his assistant from 1949.76 Hermann’s salary from December 1951 was listed as £9 3s 4d; Erna’s was not recorded, though she may have worked gratis.77 Archive photographs show HRH The Queen Mother visiting the College in October 1958, being received proudly in class by Erna and
Hermann, formally dressed for teaching in smart white lab coats.78 Both had work in the inaugural exhibition of the Morley Gallery in 1969, ‘Contemporary Artists Associated with Morley College’, alongside British notables, Edward Bawden, John Piper and Julian Trevelyan. The exhibition ‘marked an important new phase in in the development of the College: […] with a vastly increased number of classes in thoroughly equipped studios , and an interesting pattern of exhibitions […] Morley can really begin to play an important part in adult art education.’79 Nevertheless, aside from these rare progressive moments, in the postwar period Erna is mainly recorded in Jewish and émigré contexts, with her most regular reviews appearing in the AJR Information and Jewish Chronicle, her tender, feminine works featuring regularly in Ben Uri’s open annuals until the early 1960s, where she was often paired with Fraenkel in the sculpture section. Erna and Hermann also maintained a regular presence at the RA, and in 1953 they held a joint exhibition in their Archway studio. In 1957, an exhibition at Zion House, Hampstead, provided ‘living Jewish artists an opportunity of showing their work so that lovers of art could view and also buy it.’ The subtext was that many of these artists were barely scraping a living, hence the exhibition offered that ‘By special arrangement, payment could be made on the easiest possible terms […] Let it suffice to mention some artists who, after their flight from Germany, have already made a name […] in this country, or are about to do so now: Frank Auerbach, Benno Elkan, Hans Feibusch, Else Meidner. Erna Nonnenmacher […]’80 Although ‘Jewish’ exhibitions provided an outlet for many of the émigrés who found themselves outside the establishment, by their very nature, they offered only limited exposure. After a brief spell in Berners Street, Soho, where Fraenkel and Nonnenmacher both participated in the inaugural show,81 Ben Uri relocated nearby to the top floor of the West End Great Synagogue in Dean Street. Alfons Rosenberg, reviewing ‘Ben Uri Art Gallery Exhibition’ in the AJR Information in September 1966, although appreciative of its efforts to support refugee artists, was critical of the unsuitability and inaccessibility of this new venue: ‘A gallery needs a shop window – in the literal sense of the word. The Ben Uri is reminiscent of the (Jewish) closed shop, which surely is not at all intended’. Nevertheless, although he was a solitary visitor, he singled out ‘Erna Nonnenmacher (and her equally gifted husband) [who] has by now become a veteran Londoner. Her many years' teaching activities have established her as a respected and well-loved personality among art students of all ages.’82 He
described her work as: ’distinguished by its extreme simplicity’ whilst her ‘Nude’ offered ‘proof of Mrs. Nonnenmacher's versatility. It is in the cubist style and has a broken outline. A welter of different shapes and forms seems to dance round this little figure.’83 Despite this shared émigré identity and seemingly shared trajectory, ultimately it is Herman whose career was more successful – he was lead tutor at Morley, with a number of solo shows and notable public commissions, including for St John’s Waterloo, the Festival of Britain Church and the chapel at King’s College, London. Alfons Rosenberg, commenting on George Strauss MP’s opening speech at Hermann’s retrospective at King’s College in 1973 observed that ‘in 1938 he had helped this refugee from Germany. He owns and treasures some of his works and he mentioned the contribution Nonnenmacher had made to the artistic life Britain’, with the telling postscript: ‘He hoped that one day there might be an exhibition of works by Mrs. Nonnenmacher, a distinguished artist in her own right.’84 Their membership of the RBS also highlights this inequality – Erna was finally nominated ARBS on November 15, 1964 at the age of 75,85 by Charles Wheeler and Arthur Fleischmann (himself an émigré),86 whilst Hermann had been elected ARBS almost a decade earlier, in 1955, with subsequent elevation to FRBS. Erna’s last public exhibition in October 1978 was also alongside Hermann at the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in London, to mark the opening of their new Chancery building. The catalogue described exhibitors as ‘London artists from Germany’, drawn from two distinct age groups: ‘those who had to leave Germany during the Nazi era, the other half arriving after 1945’, but ‘all attracted by a city which for so many has become the main art centre and liveliest town there is.’ 87 This quote provides a telling postscript for both women; although their careers in their new homeland stalled, London in the period from 1933-45, nevertheless, provided a crucial professional and personal refuge, and it is in the city’s galleries that much of the legacy of these women remain, half-hidden, today.
Most primary source material is from the Ben Uri archives, London, and the Else Fraenkel archive, Esher, with particular thanks to Margaret Dane. Other material has been supplied by Fraenkel’s daughter, Dorian Chacko, and her granddaughter, Mariam Chacko, by email from India and USA, during 2016. The exhibition ran from 1 – 25 July 1947. Painting by Walter Trier and Sculpture by Else Fraenkel and Erna Nonnenmacher, BU archive. 2 Ben Uri was not alone in supporting émigré artists. Several important commercial galleries in London, such as Leger, Lefevre and Leicester, exhibited the work of individual émigrés as early as 1934, alongside a number of short-lived venues, including Jabe, Kensington and Parson’s Gallery; the latter exhibited exiled German Jewish Artists in June 1934. Furthermore, new galleries opened, such as Marlborough Fine Art and the Modern Art Gallery, whose very English names often belied their émigré proprietors. However, for those Jewish émigrés who chose not to, or were unable to engage with the mainstream, Ben Uri provided vital, if limited, support. 3 As of August 2016 there were at least 112 women artists represented out of a total of 405. 4 David Mazower, “Lazar Berson and the origins of the Ben Uri Art Society.” in The Ben Uri Story from Art Society to Museum, ed. Gillian Rathbone. (London: Ben Uri Gallery, The London Jewish Museum of Art, 2001), 37-58. 5 35 Exodus, Chapter 30:35. This also inspired the naming of the progressive Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts, founded in Jerusalem in 1906. 6 Jennifer Powell and Jutta Vinzent, Art and Migration (Birmingham, George Bell Institute, 2005), 7. 7 “Helping Jewish Art”, Jewish Chronicle, 29 September 1933, 13. 8 Catalogue for Summer Exhibition of Paintings, Sculptures and Drawings by Contemporary Artists, June 11 – August 7, 1944, Ben Uri Art Gallery, 14 Portman Street, London W1. BU Archive. 9 Translated from the German: http://www.sprengelmuseum.de/bilderarchiv/sprengel_deutsch/downloaddokumente/pdf/ks2007_schulz_ks_und _seine_freundinnenpdf. 10 Hans Hildebrandt, Die Frau als Künstlerin (Berlin: Rudolf Mosse Buchverlag), 184. 11 Mariam Chacko, e-mail message to author, 22 May 2016. 12 http://www.sprengelmuseum.de/bilderarchiv/sprengel_deutsch/downloaddokumente/pdf/ks2007_schulz_ks_u nd_seine_freundinnenpdf 13 Ibid. Kurt Schwitters, für Frau Fraenkel, 1928, collage, 7.6 x 5 cm. 14 The 1934 Salon D’Automne catalogue lists her address as ’40, Place Jules-Ferry, Montrouge. Fraenkel exhibits: ‘597 Mathématicien, A. Travaillant.’ and ‘598 Mathématicien, B. Enseignant.’ EF Archive. 15 Letters from 1934-36, EF archive. 16 10 October 1931, EF archive. 17 Undated cutting, EF archive. 18 Cutting from Die Weltkunst, 18 September 1932, 3. The exhibition ran from September 11– October 5, 1932. at Kunsthandlung Victor Hartberg, Berlin W35. EF archive. 19 January 31 –February 28, 1932. 20 Card from Galerie Albert Flechteim, Berlin, 11.2.32, EF archive. 21 http://www.noack-bronze.com/downloads/noack_jubilaeumsschrift-1927.pdf 24 Letter from John Rothenstein, Director, Tate Gallery, October 10, 1952. A second cast was made in 1964. Letter from Judith Cloake, Assistant Keeper, June 24, 1964. EF archive. 25 Letter from Percy Jowett (1892-1955), 25 June 1935. Else Fraenkel archive. Influential artist and teacher, Jowett was Principal of Chelsea School of Art; Central School of Arts and Crafts, and the Royal College of Art, London. 26 Correspondence from William Rothenstein from 1935 -1942, EF archive. 27 Letter, 28 November 1938. EF archive. 28 Fran Lloyd, “Modern Sculpture: Gordine and Her Contemporaries,” in Dora Gordine, Artist, Sculptor, Designer, ed. Jonathan Black and Brenda Martin (London: Philip Wilson Publishers, 2007), 76. Catalogue, Else Fraenkel archive. Exhibits included Prof. Dr Conrad Mueller, Mathematician, with eyes open and eyes closed; Madeleine (tin) and Gipsy Boxer (bronze). 29 Rothenstein’s letter, 10 September 1935; Flechtheim’s card, 5 September 1935. EF archive. 30 Catalogue #1594, Chungsung Chow. 31 Catalogue for the ‘Annual Exhibition of Works by Jewish Artists’, June 21 – July 5, 1936, Ben Uri Jewish Art Gallery, 43-44 Great Windmill Street, London, BU archive. 32 Minute Book, BU archive 33 26 September 1947. BU archive. 1
“A Bust of Dr Gaster”, Jewish Chronicle, 4 June 1937, 21. Letter from Gaster, 19 September 1937, Else Fraenkel archive. Translated by Dr. Anna Nyburg, 29 August 2016. 36 Jan Gordon, ‘Women Artists Sex and Taste’, Observer, 28 February 1937.Unpaginated cutting , EF archive. 37 Sir Alfred Rice-Oxley was instrumental in establishing Leighton House Society to continue promoting art and culture via concerts, lectures, and exhibitions at Leighton House. 38 Letter from A Heywood Jones, Chief Librarian, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, 17 March 1939, EF archive. 39 Letter, 7 February 1941, EF archive. 40 The Times, 5 January 1940, 4. 41 The Times, 4 May 1940. Fraenkel showed 15 works in pewter, bronze, plaster, and cement, alongside 12 drawings, including the portrait of Sir Alfred Rice-Oxley. 42 The High Commissioner for Ceylon gave a reception on February 9, 1965, at 13 Hyde Park Gardens, for members of the Royal Society. Among the guests were Fraenkel, Dora Gordine and her husband, Richard Hare. 43 Dorian Chacko e-mail message to author, 13 March 2016. 44 Letter, June 16, 1940. Leighton House archive. 45 The exhibition ran from 23 September – 15 October 1948. 46 Cora Gordon had studied at the Slade and was the widow of the writer and art critic Jan Gordon, himself a particular supporter of émigré artists, including Jack Bilbo, owner of the Modern Art Gallery, who exhibited Schwitters’ work and hosted his Dadaist performance during his early years of exile in London. 47 Letter dated June 16, 1940. Leighton House archive. 48 Fraenkel exhibited a bronze head of Mrs. E.C. Edwards (#954) and Philosopher (artificial stone, #957). Elkan exhibited Portrait of Dr Hertz, Chief Rabbi of the British Empire. 49 Catalogue entry #35, Fortieth Anniversary Exhibition, Selected Works By Artists Exhibited Over The Last Forty Years, 19 June – 24 July 1956. 50 Fraenkel showed her portrait of Sidney Sabin at the 41st Womens’ International Art Club exhibition, Suffolk Street Galleries, Pall Mall, 18 September – 8 October 1942. Ethel Walker was Club President. Stella Kramrisch (1896-1993) was invited by Rabindranath Tagore to lecture at his newly created Indian International University in 1920 and remained teaching in India until 1950, when she immigrated to America, occupying important posts in Asian art at the University of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Fraenkel was introduced to her when she visited London in 1937 in connection with an exhibition of Tagore's art. Kramrisch remained until 1941, teaching at the Courtauld Institute. 51 The Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR) was founded in 1946. See AJR Information, August 1947, 3. 52 EF archive. 53 Letter to Kurt Schwitters, ‘5.X1.47’, copy in EF Archive. 54 Letter, October 3, 1950. Fraenkel also taught ‘sculpture and hand-pottery’ at Loughton Senior Evening Institute between 1950-56; letter, January 1958, EF archive. 55 Morley College Syllabus 1949-50, EF archive. 56 Undated typescript listing members A-K, BU archive. 57 Committee Members included émigrés George Ehrlich and Fred Uhlman. Letter, 10 October 1956, EF archive. 58 Letter 3 June 1954, EF archive. 59 Letter 18 May 1950, EF archive. 60 Letter 13 July 1956, EF archive. The Earl of Inchcape was President of the Royal India Pakistan and Ceylon Society. 61 Typescript account of the exhibition, EF archive. 62 Shown at Leicester Galleries, 9 March – 6 April 1950. Princess Tsahai, daughter of Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, was exiled with her family to London, and trained as a nurse at Great Ormond Street Hospital. Her father opened a hospital in her name following her death during childbirth aged 22, with the former suffragist Sylvia Pankhurst as Honorary Secretary of its fundraising committee. 63 Flyer, EF archive. The hospital officially opened on 2 November 1951. 64 ‘Indian Faces Fascinate London Sculptress’, The Sunday Standard, Delhi, 13 April 1952. 67 “Exiles’ Exhibition”, Jewish Chronicle, 23 June 1939, 43. 68 http://www.gnm.de/fileadmin/redakteure/Kulturgut/2016/Kulturgut_II_2016_H49.pdf. A recent issue of Germanisches National Museum KulturGut, Quartal 2016 | Heft 49, reproduces one of Erna’s porcelain figurines on its cover and discusses her early career in some detail. Accessed June 2016. 69 Jewish Chronicle, 6 September 1940, 16-17. 70 Estate of Inge King, Australia. 71 http://www.militantesthetix.co.uk/yealm/yealm20.htm 34 35
Herbert Read, “Sculpture and Pottery”, catalogue for AIA and FGLC Exhibition of Sculpture and Drawing, November 1941. 73 4 – 27 October 1945. 74 Robert Burstow, The Sculpture in the Home Exhibitions: Reconstructing the Home and Family in Post-war Britain (Leeds: Henry Moore Institute, 2008), 2. 75 Hermann taught Modelling 1948-62, Pottery 1953-69, Modelling & Pottery (with Erma Nonnenmacher) 1963-68, Life Class 1968, Morley College Staff 1889-1968, Morley College archive, courtesy Elaine Andrews. 76 Retrieved January 13, 2010. 77 Morley College archives. 78 Photograph courtesy Lambeth Archive and Elaine Andrews, Morley College. 79 Erna showed three pieces: Young Girl (polyester bronze), Nude (bronze) and Young Woman (bronze). 80 AJR Information, January 1957, 4. 81 Fraenkel showed Dr Stella Kramrich [sic] and Nonnenmacher showed Statuette. 82 AJR Information, September 1966, 5. 83 Ibid. 84 AJR Information, November 1973, 11. 85 Email from Marcus O’Neil, Assistant Director, RBS, March 18, 2016. 86 Fleischmann was born in 1896 in Bratislava He studied medicine in Budapest and Prague, before winning a scholarship to the Master School of Sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. He left Europe in 1937, travelling to South Africa and Zanzibar before spending two years in Bali, where he converted from Judaism to Catholicism, and moved to Australia in 1939, where he became the centre of the Merioola Group, named after his home in Woollahra. In 1948, Fleischmann returned to London, producing sculptures of personalities of the day. He pioneered the use of Perspex in sculpture, including some notable public works. Sir Charles Thomas Wheeler KCVO, PRA (1892 –1974) was the first sculptor to hold the Presidency of the Royal Academy, from 1956-66. He won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art where he studied under Édouard Lantéri, specialising in portraits and architectural sculpture. 87 Werner Kilian, London Artists From Germany, Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, London 1978, 5. 72
Bibliography Charmian Brinson and Richard Dove, Politics by Other Means: The Free German League of Culture in London 1939-1945 (London: Valentine Mitchell, 2010). Robert Burstow, The Sculpture in the Home Exhibitions: Reconstructing the Home and Family in Post-war Britain (Leeds: Henry Moore Institute, 2008). Hans Hildebrandt Die Frau als Künstlerin (Berlin: Rudolf Mosse Buchverlag, 1928). Werner Kilian, London Artists From Germany, (London: Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, 1978). Fran Lloyd, “Modern Sculpture: Gordine and Her Contemporaries,” in Dora Gordine, Artist, Sculptor, Designer, ed. Jonathan Black and Brenda Martin (London: Philip Wilson Publishers, 2007), David Mazower, “Lazar Berson and the origins of the Ben Uri Art Society.” in The Ben Uri Story from Art Society to Museum, ed. Gillian Rathbone. (London: Ben Uri Gallery, The London Jewish Museum of Art, 2001). Jennifer Powell and Jutta Vinzent, Art and Migration (Birmingham, George Bell Institute, 2005). Isabel Schultz: http://www.sprengelmuseum.de/bilderarchiv/sprengel_deutsch/downloaddokumente/pdf/ks2007_schulz_ks_und _seine_freundinnenpdf