November 2013 Picture of the Month
, c.1926, etching on paper, 44.5 x 34.7 cm by Jankel Adler
Jankiel Adler was born in 1895 in Tuszyn, near Lódz in Poland, into a large, orthodox Jewish family: only his parents called him Jankel – the name he would later adopt.
As a youth he considered becoming a rabbi, but instead Adler studied engraving in Belgrade, then art in Barmen (now Wuppertal) and Düsseldorf, from 1912 –1914.
First World War
After serving in the First World War, he returned to Germany. While in Berlin he met Chagall, before settling in Düsseldorf in 1922. Here he joined the Young Rhineland circle, became friendly with Otto Dix and helped found Die Kommune and the International Exhibition of revolutionary artists in Berlin.
He developed his unique figurative style and created murals such as his Planetarium, which was awarded the Gold Medal at the Deutsche Kunst exhibition, 1928. While working in a studio at the Düsseldorf Academy 1931-33 he became a friend of Paul Klee; who inspired a more expressionistic approach.
In 1933, the Nazis declared his work 'degenerate': he fled Nazi Germany and established himself in Paris. He worked with printmaker Stanley William Hayter at Atelier 17, making the acquaintance of Picasso, who further influenced his work.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, he joined the Polish Army in France but was evacuated to Scotland and discharged, in 1940, due to ill health.
Josef Herman and Glasgow
Together with Josef Herman, he became a member of the Glasgow New Art club founded by J D Fergusson. By 1943, he was in London, sharing a house with 'the two Roberts' – painters Colquhoun and MacBryde – for whom he was a great artistic stimulus. He died at Aldbourne in Wiltshire in 1949.
Adler's arrival in Paris in 1933 can be seen as part of a 'second wave' of artists from Russia who were drawn west to Germany, then to France. His etching, Ein Jude, part of the Ben Uri permanent collection, was probably executed in 1926 during his second Paris visit, and brings a modernist technique to a traditional subject.
Ein Jude subtly refers to Adler’s preoccupation with identity, a common theme in much of his work and evident from his biography.
Adler's work is also featured on the Your Paintings website, a project by the BBC, in conjunction with the Public Catalogue Foundation (PCF), ‘set to uncover the nation’s art’.
Jankel Adler, an émigré artist, deals explicitly with identity and migration, and is extensively represented in the Ben Uri collection.
Find out more about Jankel Adler work in the Ben Uri permanent collection.