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Your place to explore new perspectives on British art from 1900 to now. Through interviews, films, image galleries and essays, we uncover the creative lives of the people behind the art on our walls.

A line of winter trees and stone monument on left hand side and parked vehicles and industrial buildings on right hand side. Palette largely of greys, browns and olive with some reds and pinks in building facade.

Celebrating émigré artists in Britain

[ Images, Stories )

When refugees from Nazi-dominated Europe arrived on Britain’s shores in the 1930s and 40s, could we ever have imagined the extent of their contribution to British culture? Insiders/Outsiders 2019, a year-long arts festival, shone a spotlight on the ideas, skills and talents of this extraordinarily creative generation who sought sanctuary here on our doorstep.

As part of Insiders/Outsiders, our exhibitions Grete Marks: An Intimate Portrait, and Walter Nessler: Postwar Optimist celebrated the lives and works of two émigré artists in our collection. But there are more. Many more. Some so familiar and integral to British Modern art they have become almost inherently British.


The extraordinary generation of artists, writers and designers who found sanctuary in Britain from the Nazi regime brought ideas and skills and talent. But they also brought a breadth of possibilities: their practices crossed borders. There could not be a better time to celebrate them and to recognise what wealth we gain from those we welcome here.

Edmund De Waal OBE

So why is it important to remember these émigré artists?

Well, could you imagine Modern British art without Lucian Freud? Or without Frank Auerbach? Probably not. These are two major figures in the art world after all. Émigré artists such as these arrived in Britain and brought with them a “breadth of possibilities”, and a creativity that “crossed borders” and transformed the British cultural landscape indelibly.

In celebrating their talents and contributions, it’s important that we don’t forget their stories and identities. As we find ourselves in the midst of a global refugee crisis, this feels especially timely. But let us imagine the wealth of creative possibilities to stem from Britain’s more recent arrivals.

Let's take a closer look at the émigré artists in our collection.

A woman's face lying in profile facing upwards and to the left rendered in thick white and orange brushstrokes against a dark blue background.

Frank Auerbach [1931 – present)

Born in Berlin in 1931, Auerbach came to Britain in 1939 as a refugee escaping Nazi Germany. He went on to specialise in impasto figurative, portrait and landscape paintings and is often associated with The School of London along with artists such as Francis Bacon, Howard Hodgkin and Lucian Freud.

Self portrait by Lucian Freud showing his head and shoulders three-quarter turned to the right. To the right on the corner of a table is a pot of hyacinth flowers against a yellow background.

Lucian Freud [1922 – 2011)

To escape the rise in Nazism, Freud and his family moved to Britain in 1933. His figurative paintings and their stark realism have ensured his reputation as one of the foremost 20th century British portraitists.

Pastel drawing by Hans Feibusch of a man and two dogs hunting a stag. In pastel shades of green, yellow, pink and blue.

Hans Feibusch [1898 – 1998)

A German painter and sculptor of Jewish heritage, Feibusch lived and worked in Britain from 1933 until his death. He was mainly known for his murals, particularly in Anglican churches, and likely produced the largest body of work of this particular style than any artist in the history of the Church of England.


Find out more about The Hans Feibusch Archive and Studio

Charcoal drawing by Grete Marks depicting four children rummaging through a box

Grete Marks [1899 – 1990)

Marks was one of the earliest female students of the Bauhaus School and is best known for founding the Hael-Werkstatten pottery in Germany. After her work was declared degenerate by the Nazi’s, she came to Britain with her two children in 1938. She went on to found Greta Pottery. Our current exhibition however, celebrates a lesser-known aspect of her work through a series of intimate portrait watercolour paintings and drawings.

Discover more of Marks’ work

Painting by Walter Nessler showing a highliy colourful and slightlsy abstracted scene of two pigeons sitting on a windowsill overlooking a river with a bridge.

Walter Nessler [1912 – 2001)

Nessler’s opposition to fascist ideology spurred him to leave Germany for Britain in the 1930s, just after he created a set of prints known as the ‘Hitler ABC’. These depicted Adolf Hitler in a series of satirical portraits corresponding with letters of the alphabet. He submitted these as a proposal to the British Ministry of War, suggesting that the sheets be dropped like ‘flying leaves’ over German territory, ‘simply to shake people into awakening’.

Discover more of Walter Nessler’s work

Two ceramic vessels decorated with lines and in shades of black, white and blue.

Lucie Rie [1902 – 1995)

One of the most respected potters of the 20th century, Dame Lucie Rie was known for her fine, functional, beautifully decorated domestic ceramics. Forced to escape the Nazi regime, Rie set up in England as a potter during the Second World War.

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