BURU (the Ben Uri Research Unit) presents Friends and Influences, the third in our series of snapshot survey exhibitions exploring a particular aspect of the Jewish and immigrant contribution to the visual arts in Britain since 1900. This display brings together paintings, drawings, etchings and lithographs by a selected group of artists united by ties of ethnicity, background, training, teaching and/or exhibiting platforms, as well as through their mutual and enduring friendships, who helped reinvigorate the post-war British art scene and are today celebrated as among the 20th/21st century’s finest exponents of the figurative tradition. Their work is examined both through their mutual friendships, and through their relationship to and conscious engagement with artists of an older generation, whose profound influence upon their own work they openly acknowledged. Thus a line of descent can be traced from the old masters, such as Dürer and Rembrandt, to the new – from Ecole de Paris artists headed by Soutine, thence to ‘Whitechapel Boy’ David Bomberg, and finally, through him to Frank Auerbach and the late, and much missed, Leon Kossoff, who sadly passed away on 4th July 2019.
The display focuses on portraits from a close circle of sitters including friends and family by selected so-called ‘School of London’ artists. They are represented here by Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff and R. B. Kitaj, who first coined this controversial label (disputed by the majority of its ‘members’) in 1976. This is only one of a number of common bonds: all the artists shared a Jewish and immigrant background: Berlin-born Auerbach and Freud both fled Nazi-Germany for Britain in the 1930s; Kossoff was born to Russian immigrant parents in Islington; and Kitaj, born in Ohio, USA, trained at art school in England, as did New York-born Sandra Fisher, who became his second wife. During the Second World War, Freud, as a nineteen-year-old, served as a merchant seaman in the Atlantic convoy (1940-41). Later, the seventeen-year-old Kitaj also served as a merchant seaman with a Norwegian freighter in 1949.