Belsize Park exhibition celebrates career of Polish serrealist who shook up British art scene

PUBLISHED: 15:11 27 May 2015

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Jankel Adler was important both as a modern artist and political activist in the 1940s, says Alison Oldham.

The Polish émigré artist Jankel Adler left an indelible mark on the stylistic face of the 1940s, despite only living in Britain for the last nine years of his life. His work had a liberating effect on artists including Keith Vaughan and the “two Roberts” - Colquhoun and MacBryde.

In his book Art in Exile, Douglas Hall describes Adler as “a born mover and shaker and animator of every group he belonged to”, though he was criticised for being over-responsive to the influences of the day. Hall says that when Adler was “accused” of standing halfway between Pablo Picasso and Paul Klee, he countered that it was a very good place to stand.

Sylvester Fine Arts in Belsize Park gives us a golden opportunity to see what he meant with its forthcoming exhibition of Adler’s late oils and works on paper – gouache, watercolours and drawings – all from the Aukin collection.

Born into an orthodox Jewish family in Russian-occupied Poland in 1895, Adler’s precocious artistic talents led to successes in Germany in the 1920s where close friends included Otto Dix and Klee. But as a political activist and modern artist, he was hated by the Nazis and included in the Degenerate Art exhibition in 1937.

Living in Warsaw and Paris between 1933 and 1939 meant exposure to the work of the Cubists and Picasso. He joined the Polish Army in France and was evacuated with them to Scotland in 1940, later moving to London where he died of a heart attack in 1949.

Earlier work ranged from sombre Jewish themes to surrealist flights of fancy. In later paintings the figures can be unnervingly geometrical and the abstract symbolism imbued with a sense of impending destiny, but there are still lifes of that period with a mellow grace.

Jankel Adler: The Influence of a Generation runs from Wed until June 14 at 64 Belsize Lane NW3, Wed to Sat 11-6 Sun noon-5pm.

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