History of Ben Uri

Centenary 2015

Ben Uri celebrated its centenary on 1 July 2015; it was founded in 1915 in Gradel’s restaurant in Whitechapel, in the East End of London. Immigrant Jewish artists founded Ben Uri and made a significant contribution to its development over the past 100 years. Today Ben Uri’s work explores themes of Art, Identity and Migration through exhibitions, cultural partnerships, outreach and education.

Watch a series of films with Chairman and Chief Executive David Glasser discussing the history of the Ben Uri

Watch video about the Ben Uri created for the 2015 Centenary celebrations

Read a series of blog posts by our archivists exploring the key events and people in our history

Learn with the Ben Uri Timeline, a 20th-century Art Timeline, and a Timeline of key 20th-century events relating to the Ben Uri theme of Art, Identity and Migration.

20th-century British Art

The histories of Ben Uri and that of 20th-century British art are intertwined: the blossoming of the immigrant generations of Jewish artists was mirrored by the development of modern painting in Britain and the outburst of creativity that burgeoned in London’s East End Jewish community gave Britain so many of its best known artists, including David Bomberg and Mark Gertler (part of the The Whitechapel Boys group), and at the same time gave birth to Ben Uri.

Founder Lazar Berson

Ben Uri was founded on 1st July 1915 by the Russian émigré artist Lazar Berson in Gradel’s restaurant, Whitechapel, in the heart of London’s East End. Originally called ‘The Jewish National Decorative Art Association (London), Ben Ouri’, it was established to support and nurture art and creativity – still a key focus of Ben Uri’s work today.

The name Ben Uri echoes that of legendary biblical craftsman Bezalel Ben Uri (Exodus, Chapter 35, verses 30-35), the creator of the tabernacle in the Temple of Jerusalem, reflecting a kinship with the ideals of the famous Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts founded in Jerusalem nine years earlier in 1906.

From art society to museum

During the 1920s, Ben Uri moved from its East End home to a central London location, first near the British Museum in Bloomsbury, later moving to the West End and finally, in the 1950s, to Dean Street in London’s Soho, where it ran a programme of exhibitions and cultural activities until the 1990s.

Ben Uri today: a temporary home

In 2002, Ben Uri moved to north London to a space on Boundary Road in St John’s Wood, near to the original site of the Saatchi Gallery and a short distance from the zebra crossing on Abbey Road made famous by The Beatles in August 1969, recording at the nearby studios.

In July 2002 – in partnership with the Jewish Museum, Frankfurt – Ben Uri celebrated its re-opening with the internationally-acclaimed exhibition of works by the famous German Expressionist Ludwig Meidner and his artist wife Else.

Ben Uri continues to curate groundbreaking exhibitions in this temporary home, while looking for a permanent gallery space to display its unique collection of over 1300 works in its entirety.

Until a central London gallery is found the bulk of the Ben Uri Collection remains in secure storage although the entire collection can be seen online at www.benuricollection.org.uk.