Artist Ellen Kuhn was born into a Jewish family in Munich, Germany in 1937. In August 1939 the family fled to New York, catching the last Holland-American line ship. They settled in Harlem, where Kuhn attended her first life-drawing class at the age of eight. As a teenager she studied at the University of Wisconsin, afterwards completing a master's in fine art at Berkeley.


After meeting and marrying scientist John Charap in San Francisco, she moved with him to England in 1963, settling in London. Her work ranged from commercial printing to abstract expressionism, the latter deriving from her period in New York. During the 1960s, she also produced work reflecting civil unrest including the war in Vietnam. In England, she painted London's busy streets and monuments, and at night became fascinated by the transition of the River Thames into a world of abstract colour and form. She also loved to paint scenery, enjoying the challenge of working fast in watercolour and her landscapes include scenes in both Brittany and Dorset. The cinema also provided inspiration for her paintings and during the 1980s she created a series of imaginative silkscreen prints that she exhibited at the Royal Academy. One of the most fruitful times in her creative life was at The Place Theatre, where, also in the 1980s, she attended rehearsals of The London Contemporary Dance Theatre, and later of the Richard Alston Dance Company, drawing the dancers in action. She worked fast in coloured chalk and pencils, with free gestures that match the spirit of the dancers themselves and later made more ambitious works based on photographs she had taken in situ. She first exhibited at Ben Uri in the Annual Summer Exhibition in 1964, and also had a joint exhibition at Ben Uri with Belinda Harding in 1983. She also taught at the Henrietta Barnett School, the London College of Furniture and Camden Arts Institute. She lived in Hampstead and even in her final illness, loved to watch the Heath changing with the seasons; after she died in 2013, her ashes were scattered in Hampstead boating pond. Her work is represented in the Ben Uri Collection and that of the Victoria and Albert Museum.