Jankel Adler: A 'Degenerate' Artist in Britain, 1940-49

Marking the 70th anniversary of the artist's death, Jankel Adler: A 'Degenerate' Artist in Britain, 1940-49 is the first museum exhibition of Adler's works in Britain since the Arts Council memorial show in 1951.  Born in 1895 in Tuszyn, near Lódz, into a large orthodox Jewish family, Adler studied engraving in Belgrade in 1912, then art in Barmen and Düsseldorf until 1914. In 1918 he returned to Poland, becoming a founder-member of Young Yiddish, a Lódz-based group of painters and writers dedicated to the expression of their Jewish identity. During the First World War he was conscripted into the Russian army, but resettled in Germany in 1920, meeting Marc Chagall in Berlin, before returning to Barmen. He also formed an important friendship with Paul Klee, who had a profound influence upon his style.

 

In 1933 Adler was forced to flee Nazi Germany at the height of his success after his work was declared 'degenerate' – he was later included in the infamous Entartete Kunst ('Degenerate Art') exhibition in 1937.  Adler continued to travel widely until 1937, when he resettled in France, meeting Picasso, who became the second major influence on his style. Upon the outbreak of the Second World War, Adler joined the Polish Army in exile and was evacuated to Scotland in 1940, where he was demobilized owing to poor health. In Glasgow he and Josef Herman (whom he had known previously in Poland) became members of the influential Glasgow New Art club founded by J. D. Fergusson. Adler moved to London in 1943, sharing a house with 'the two Roberts', the painters Colquhoun and MacBryde, whose style he greatly influenced; he died at Aldbourne in Wiltshire in 1949.

 

Drawn primarily from private collections, this snapshot exhibition provides a much-needed opportunity to re-assess a still neglected artist, who introduced remarkable stylistic and technical innovations, particularly in printmaking, to the next generation of British artists, and is now considered one of the most important European modernists working in mid-century Britain.