Painter and sculptor Ernst Eisenmayer was born into a Jewish family of Austro-Hungarian descent in Vienna, Austria on 18 September 1920. Following Hitler's accession to the Chancellorship in Germany in 1933 and the rise of increasingly anti-Semitic legislation, followed by the Anschluss (annexation of Austria) in 1938, Eisenmayer was imprisoned, aged 18, in Dachau Concentration Camp, where he witnessed many atrocities and made a series of drawings. In 1939 he managed to escape to England (as he later narrated in his memoir, 'A Strange Haircut'), but following the introduction of internment for so-called ‘enemy aliens’ in June 1940, he was interned on the Isle of Man (October 1940 - September 1941), where he drew portraits of fellow internees. He participated in the camp art exhibition and one of his drawings was reproduced in the camp magazine, 'The Onchan Pioneer'. After release, he joined the Young Austria movement, where he met fellow refugee artists Erich Deutsch (Eric Doitch) and Heinz Inländer (Henry Inlander) who became close friends, and with whom he afterwards studied at Camberwell School of Art (1946–47). In 1944 his work was included in an exhibition of Austrian art in exile.

Postwar Eisenmayer initially worked for a small London firm designing and making jewellery, but as his reputation grew he decided to become a full-time artist in 1962. He held solo exhibitions in several cities including London, Osaka, and his birthplace, Vienna. In 1962 he held a solo exhibition at Ben Uri's Berners Street Gallery and ten years later, he became a member of the Ben Uri Arts Committee. Between 1974 and 1988 he lived in Italy, then spent eight years in Amsterdam, before eventually returning to his native Vienna in 1996. He died in Vienna, Austria on 27 March 2018. His work is held in UK collections including the Ben Uri Collection, Kings Lynn Museums, Peterborough Museum & Art Gallery and Southlands College.

Eisenmayer's work has recently undergone a critical reassessment. In 2002 the exhibition 'About the Dignity of Man: Ernst Eisenmayer – Life and Work' was held at the Jewish Museum, Vienna and in 2010 his painting 'Strip Poker' closed Ben Uri’s 2010 exhibition 'Forced Journeys', which toured to Douglas on the Isle of Man and Birkenhead, to mark the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the Manx internment camps, followed by a solo exhibition 'Art Beyond Exile' curated by Prof Fran Lloyd at the Austrian Cultural Forum in London, and the Sayle Gallery, Douglas, Isle of Man in 2012.