Restorer looks to Hampstead to trace story of art refugees who fled the Nazis

Morwenna Blewett is appealing for relatives to come forward. Picture: Nigel Sutton.

Morwenna Blewett is appealing for relatives to come forward. Picture: Nigel Sutton. - Credit: Nigel Sutton

An art restorer determined to uncover the hidden story of predecessors who escaped the Nazis has taken her search for answers to Hampstead.

Morwenna Blewett, a paintings restorer at the National Gallery, in Trafalgar Square, believes a string of revered art restorers who fled the cultural purge in Nazi-occupied Europe may have settled in Hampstead and surrounding neighbourhoods.

The 35-year-old, who is researching the lives of Jewish émigrés from the art restoration industry for a part-time university PhD project, is appealing to anyone who knows anything about art restorers who moved to Hampstead, or nearby, to get in touch.

Ms Blewett has compiled a list of art restorers she is interested in, explaining: “I want to talk to anyone who has any information about the people listed. I believe there are people [who may be related to them or know of them] still in the places where these refugees came.”

Just months after Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany in 1933, the Nazis passed laws enforcing the sacking of Jews employed by the state and later many other sectors. The art restoration industry was treated no differently.

Following hours of extensive research – including trawling through documents at the National Archives in Kew and other archives both in the UK and the USA – Ms Blewett identified a number of art restorers who came to Hampstead, as well as St John’s Wood and Highgate, from Nazi-occupied Europe between 1933 and 1945.

Among them was Henry Happ, a restorer from Berlin who came to Hampstead in the mid-1930s with the assistance of Harold W. Fisher, founder of accountancy firm HW Fisher & Company, now based in Regent’s Park.

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It is believed Mr Fisher, who died in 1986, helped a number of émigrés settle in north London. Other émigré restorers who came to Hampstead include Sebastian Isepp, Erich Wagner, Muriel Silk and Hans Abarbanell.

For many of the names on her list, Ms Blewett has little more to go on than when they arrived in this country and where they first settled – and virtually all are now thought to be dead.

But she has no doubt about the significance of their arrival and the impact it had on the future direction of the art restoration world.

Referring to the likes of Helmut Ruhemann, a restorer now considered a pioneer, who fled Germany in 1933 and eventually set up a studio in St John’s Wood, Ms Blewett said: “If we hadn’t had that massive influx of skill and people that wanted to change things for the better and share their methods, we would have a completely different profession.”

After completing her PhD, Ms Blewett hopes to publish a book on her findings.

If you have any information which could help Ms Blewett, she can be contacted by email on or by telephone on 020 7747 2563.