To express anxiety, physical and spiritual anguish in the most solid and stable construction; to bring life into abstraction – an abstraction infused with eloquence, with the convincing strength of tangible reality, of things seen; to give a plastic conclusion and generously, mainly pictural, to the seekings of a generation torn between new objectivity and the most intense and voluntary subjectivity: herein lies the main success of Jankel Adler, herein his claim to our respect and gratitude.
Paul Fierens, 1948
Jankel Adler (1895-1949) was one of the most respected Jewish artists of his generation. Born in Poland, he studied and painted for many years in Dusseldorf, where he also taught at the Modern Academy. In 1918 he was one of the founders of the Ing Idisz (Young Yiddish) group, an association of painters and writers in Łódź dedicated to the expression of their Jewish identity. The influence of Jewish calligraphy can be found in many of his early works, which also incorporate formal, stylistic and technical elements derived from avant-garde practices, including German Expressionism, Picasso and Cubism, and Constructivism.
Despite, or perhaps more accurately, because of his success, Adler was forced to leave Germany in 1933. His paintings were removed from German museums and he appeared on the lists of ‘degenerate art’. At the outbreak of war he volunteered for the Polish Army, and with them arrived in Scotland after the collapse of France. He was demobbed in 1941 and was free to return to painting. Much of his work from the 1940s makes explicit reference to the war, such as The Mutilated, 1942, now in the Tate Collection. He settled in London in 1943, taking an active role in the circle of European refugee artists in the city.
Adler had his first exhibition at Gimpel Fils in March 1947, displaying works inspired by the writings of Franz Kafka. Gimpel Fils had opened in November the previous year and Adler’s display was the third exhibition in the gallery’s history. A second solo show followed in 1948, which included a selection of oil paintings, gouaches and drawings. The extract by Paul Fierens, then curator of the Museum of Modern Art Bruxelles, reproduced here, was included in Adler’s 1948 exhibition catalogue.
Throughout his career, Adler explored the tension between abstraction and naturalism. The works in this exhibition demonstrate the breadth of his investigations; figurative ink drawings from 1940 and 1941 display emotions, subtly caught in sketchy lines, while paintings from 1947 depict ambiguous, abstract symbols. What was consistent in Adler’s practice however, was a dedication to capturing the dignity of the human spirit. This exhibition will also include a selection of material from the Gimpel Fils archives relating to Jankel Adler, including letters from the artist, photographs, exhibition catalogues and a full-page review from the 1951 edition of Jewish Life and Letters.