Painter and printmaker, Jacob Bornfriend was born Jakub Bauernfreund into a Jewish family in Zborov, Austria-Hungary (now eastern Slovakia) in 1904; his younger brother, Alexander Bauernfreund (1915-1990) was also an émigré painter. In 1926 Bornfriend attended Gustav Mallý's private painting school in Bratislava, where he met the painters, Cyprián Majerník and Ján Želibský. The following year he moved to Prague and in 1929 was admitted to the third year of study at the Academy of Fine Arts, under Willi Nowak, graduating in 1933. At the Academy, Bornfriend developed an expressionistic style and experimented with impressionism and surrealism. He had early success with exhibitions in 1936, at the Museum of Moravia and at Galerie Hugo Feigl (which was owned by the brother of émigré painter, Friederich Feigl) in Prague, and at the Slovakian Museum in Kosice. He also established a close friendship with the Hungarian-Swedish painter Endre Nemes, with whom he exhibited in 1936 and subsequently shared a three-month study trip to Paris, where Bornfriend was particularly inspired by the work of Chagall and Modigliani. In the same year, Bornfriend joined the renowned creative forum, Umělecká Beseda (Art Discussion), which embraced fine art, literature, and music, and occupied a significant role in Czechoslovak cultural life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He continued to exhibit with Nemes in Prague in the late 1930s and later, in the early 1960s, when Nemes secured solo Swedish exhibitions for Bornfriend, and contributed to the catalogue, at Galleri 54, Göteborg (1962) and at Gummesons Konstgalleri, Stockholm (1963).


In 1939, forced to flee his homeland after the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, Bornfriend immigrated to Britain, losing much of his early work in the process. He settled in London, working in factories during the war, and, together with his wife, Paula, was naturalised in 1948. Bornfriend eventually established himself as a painter in the postwar period, showing particularly within Jewish and immigrant circles. He was one of a number of émigré artists associated with the so-called Continental British School of Painting, a loose grouping conceived by Czech émigré art historian, Prof J. P. Hodin, who aimed (unsuccessfully) to establish a salon for these European-born painters (see Hodin's papers [uncatalogued as of November 2020], Tate Archives, London, TGA 20062; MacDougall, Hodin's London Salon, 2013). Bornfriend exhibited at the Czechoslovak Institute, London (1945), an initiative of the Czechoslovak government-in-exile and opened by Anthony Eden in January 1941, it showcased aspects of Czechoslovak culture, including the work of immigrant artists, such as Bedřich Feigl, Oskar Kokoschka, Freda Salvendy and Geza Szobel. He also regularly showed with émigré dealers Heinz (Henry) Roland and Gustav Delbanco at Roland, Browse & Delbanco, London, who supported his work during the 1950s-60s. R Spira, reviewing the 1961 Delbanco show described Bornfriend's aspiration to portray above all: 'not reality, but its pictorial equivalent, the inner essence and the hidden melody of things' (AJR Information, October 1961, p. 9). Along with serving as a member of Ben Uri's Arts Committee in 1962-68, Bornfriend also participated in contemporary two-person and group shows at Ben Uri Gallery in 1958, 1963 and 1974. His show with Alfred Harris at Ben Uri in 1974 marked the culmination of a collaborative period (1970-74) during which they found much affinity within their respective oeuvres, showing together in several Swedish museum shows.


In 1957 Bornfriend was commissioned by émigré architect Eugene Rosenberg to design a mural with biblical themes for Jews' College, London (now the London School of Jewish Studies); ideas for this project were further explored in a suite of editioned lithographs celebrating Jewish Festivals (1957, Ben Uri Collection). From the late 1950s, Bornfriend focused on increasingly abstract landscapes and still lifes, employing simplified, colourful, organic shapes in an ambiguous pictorial space. His work from this period reveals commonalities with St Ives' painters, Patrick Heron and Peter Lanyon, with whom Bornfriend shared the use of rhythmic patterns and brilliant colour, to evoke a dynamism which he perceived lay within the British landscape. Jacob Bornfriend died in London, England in 1976; an obituary was published in the AJR Information. His work is held in numerous UK public collections, including Bournemouth & Poole College, Leeds Art Gallery, Southampton Art Gallery, Tate, The Hepworth Wakefield, University of Warwick and Victoria Art Gallery, Bath.