Erich Wolfsfeld was born into a Jewish family in Krojanke, Posen, in 1885, moving to Berlin, where he was raised, at the age of two. He studied at the Berlin Academy, as well as at the Academie Julian in Paris, and in 1907 worked for a time in Rome. In 1905 he was commissioned by the Prussian government to make etched copies of Byzantine frescoes in the classical ruins of Priene (later lost) for an unrealised publication and in 1911 won the Kaiser Wilhelm Gold Medal for painting. By 1914 he had exhibited in Berlin, Leipzig and Vienna, and illustrated articles on his work appeared in journals including Die Kunst and Kunst fur Alle, however his early success was interrupted by the First World War, during which he served as an officer in the German army. From 1920 he worked as professor of painting and etching at the Berlin Academy, as well as travelling widely in North Africa and the Middle East, frequently depicting Arab subjects. Following the rise of Nazism, Wolfsfeld’s post as Professor at Berlin’s Royal Academy School was terminated in 1936, and in 1939 he fled to Britain. In June 1940, he was among a large number of artists interned on the Isle of Man; after release, he initially settled in Sheffield, then moved to London.
A classic painter-etcher, Wolfsfeld mostly concentrated on portraiture, also creating character studies. Stylistically unfashionable in post-war Britain, Wolfsfeld’s work fell into relative obscurity, although he participated in mixed exhibitions at Ben Uri from 1950 and a memorial exhibition was held in 1958. Recent exhibitions have been held at the Belgrave Gallery (1977, 1995) and at Agnew’s (1990–91). His work is held in UK collections including the British Museum, Ferens Art Gallery in Hull, the Imperial War Museum, and the V&A; as well as the Germanisches National Museum in Nuremburg, Albertina in Vienna, Gambinetto Nazionale della Stampe in Rome, the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.