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Ala Story

  • Originally from Vienna, Ala Story worked for galleries such as Redfern and Storran, opened the Stafford Gallery in 1938 and developed it into the British Art Centre.
  • Ala
  • Story
  • Emilie Anna Maria Heyszl von Heyszenau

  • 1907
  • Vienna (AT)
  • 1972
  • Santa Barbara (US)
  • GalleristCuratorArt CollectorMuseums Director
  • Originally from Vienna, Ala Story worked for galleries such as Redfern and Storran, opened the Stafford Gallery in 1938 and developed it into the British Art Centre.

    Word Count: 26

  • William Dole, Ala’s Story, 1971, collage, 34.9 x 30.8 cm, Santa Barbara Museum of Art (Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Gift of Margaret P. Mallory, Object number 1991.154.9, © artist or artist’s estate). The collage is dedicated to the life and work of Ala Story in Vienna, London, New York and Santa Barbara and is a visual transcultural narrative.
  • Although Ala Story held a powerful position in the USA as director of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, her time in London has still hardly been explored. She was a formative player in the London art market. Ala Story was born Emilie Anna Maria Heyszl von Heyszenau in Vienna. She initially studied art at the Academy, but left in her twenties and moved to London, where she took up a position at the Beaux Arts Gallery. She subsequently worked in galleries such as the Redfern Gallery, Lucy Wertheim Gallery and, from 1933, the Storran Gallery, often in a managerial position. At times, Ala Story co-managed the Storran Gallery, including with art critic Eardley Knollys, as evidenced by a preserved 1937 invoice for the sale of works by Modigliani, Kitchens and Picasso. Among the artists represented by the Storran Gallery were Graham Bell and Christopher Wood. The gallery was initially located in Kensington, at 106 Brompton Road, SW3, opposite Harrods, then moved to 5 Albany Courtyard, Piccadilly, W1. The Storran Gallery, which existed until 1944, espoused an avant-garde programme and an innovative exhibition practice: in 1938, it hosted The Jones Exhibition, which featured London city scenes by British artists. 800 London families with the surname ‘Jones’ received an invitation by post to the exhibition opening (Taylor 1999, 276). Incidentally, it was at the Storran Gallery that Erica Brausen (1908–1992) got her first gallery job after arriving in London; Brausen later founded the Hanover Gallery.

    At the end of 1938, Ala Story opened the Stafford Gallery in St James’s, out of which she developed the British Arts Centre after 1939, working to keep works by contemporary artists visible and to facilitate acquisitions: “An effort is now being made by a number of influential art-lovers to keep art interest alive in these dark days. Their plan is to organise an art centre in London consisting of a club with galleries and a staff which will organise exhibitions in the club’s rooms and if possible in other towns. It is to be called the British Art Centre, and will for the time be housed in the Stafford Gallery, 13, St. James’s Street. An honorary committee has been formed which includes Sir Evan Charteris, Lord Berners, Lord Sandwich, Messrs. Samuel Courtauld, Campbell Dodgson, A.P. Herbert, and other well-known people.” (Private Wire 1939) The British Arts Centre's first exhibition featured new works by Ester Borough-Johnson, John Murray and Robert Buhler (Gordon 1939).

    Around 1940, Ala Story left England for New York, where she co-founded the American-British Art Center in New York in 1941. It was located on West 56th Street in the gallery district, where other galleries supporting exile art were located as the Norlyst Gallery, Weyhe Gallery as well as the Julien Levy Gallery. Organised as a gallery and clubhouse, the centre’s function was to introduce British and US artists to the public and to counteract the wartime isolation of the British art scene. In her function as a director of the American-British Art Center Ala Story remained in close contact with art institutions, artists and photographers even after her departure from London.
    From 1952 to 1957, Ala Story was director of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. There she curated exhibitions such as Impressionism and Its influence in American Art (1954) and Paintings by Oskar Kokoschka (1954), exhibitions that focused on artistic exchange between Europe and the USA and made European artists better known.
    After leaving the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Story travelled extensively and, later, in the 1960s until her death in 1972, was employed by the Art Gallery of the University of California at Santa Barbara, founded in 1959, which awarded her an honorary doctorate in 1968. At the Art Gallery, Story curated exhibitions of modernist artists such as William Merrit Chase (1964), Paul Klee (1967) and Max Weber (1968), and also presented survey shows such as Trends in Twentieth Century Art (1970) and Constructive Tendencies (1970).

    Ala Story was a consistent advocate for contemporary art in her places of exile and a transatlantic mediator and disseminator of British and European art. In addition, Ala Story was socio-politically engaged, for example in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (Anonymous 1972). And she was a protagonist of the queer scenes in London, New York and Santa Barbara and supported other emigrants of her queer networks, such as Erica Anderson (née Erika Paula Kellner, 1914–1976). Story arranged temporary work in galleries for Erica Anderson, a photographer who had fled to London; they both arrived in New York in the same year, 1940, and Anderson took a flat above Story’s American British Art Center (Brunner 2019, 151). Anderson, who made a career as a cinematographer, and Story remained friends throughout their lives and were also connected professionally. Story’s life partner, filmmaker Margaret Mallory, appointed Anderson as chief cinematographer of her production company, Falcon Films. In 1950, Erica Anderson made a film about the US painter “Grandma Moses”, whom Story supported through exhibitions at the American British Art Center and whose work she collected. Another German émigré photographer who was part of the queer network in New York and befriended with Erica Anderson, was the German émigré photographer Ruth Bernhard.

    During her time in London and as founder of the American British Art Center in New York, Ala Story, along with Mallory, built up her own art collection, with key works such as Max Beckmann’s Quappi with Fur (1937) and Egon Schiele’s House with Drying Laundry (1917). Story acquired the latter at the St. Etienne Gallery in New York after her emigration (Niederacher 2014). In 1966, the art collections of Ala Story and Margaret Mallory were shown at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (Breton 1966). Works from their joint collections were donated to the museum (The Ala Story Collection 1971) and the Art Gallery at the University of California also holds pieces from Margaret Mallory’s collection. In 1961, what is now known as the AD&A Museum purchased a body of Old Master and 20th century prints.
    The Ala’s Story collage by William Dole (1971) came to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art as a gift from Margaret Mallory. The title of the work plays on the name Ala Story and is dedicated to the transcultural life story of the curator and gallery owner, to her routes of emigration, which took her from Vienna via London and New York to the American West Coast.

    Word Count: 1044

  • A 1937 Storran Gallery receipt for works by Modigliani, Hitchens and Picasso. Ala Story and Eardley Knollys as representatives of Storran Gallery are mentioned under the gallery’s address (
    Article mentioning the “newly opened Stafford Gallery”, one of the galleries Ala Story worked at or founded in London. The Manchester Guardian, 1 November 1938, p. 14 (Photo: Private Archive).
    Article on the foundation of the British Art Centre at the Stafford Gallery in The Manchester Guardian, 30 September 1939, p. 8 (Photo: Private Archive).
    Article on the first exhibition of the “self-help club” British Art Centre at Stafford Gallery in The Observer, 19 November 1939, p. 8 (Photo: Private Archive). It is emphasised that Ala Story selected fresh works from artists’ studios.
    Advertisement for the This War as I See It exhibition at the Stafford Gallery (British Art Centre), The Observer, 14 April 1940, p. 17 (Photo: Private Archive).
    Ala Story obituary in The Berkshire Eagle, Pittsfield, Mass., 7 April 1972, p. 13 (Photo: Private Archive).
  • Anonymous. “British Art.” The Herald Statesman, 28 January 1941, p. 8.

    Anonymous. “Art Exhibit At Bar Harbor. Recent Photographs of Bombed London By Cecil Beaton.” The Bangor Daily News, 11 August 1941, p. 10.

    Anonymous. “Mrs. Ala Story, Was Director of Museum of Art.” The Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield, Mass.), 7 April 1972, p. 13.

    Breton, Harriette Von. “Margaret Mallory and Ala Story Collections.” Artform International, March 1966, p. 18, Accessed 21 February 2021.

    Brunner, Andreas. “Erica Anderson (1914–1976). Lesbische Netzwerke im Exil.” Lambda Nachrichten, vol. 39, no. 172, 2017, pp. 46–48, Accessed 8 March 2021.

    Brunner, Andreas. “Die queeren Netzwerke der Erica Anderson.” Doing Gender in Exile. Geschlechterverhältnisse, Konstruktionen und Netzwerke in Bewegung, edited by Irene Messinger and Katharina Prager, Westfälisches Dampfboot, 2019, pp. 142–155.

    Gordon, Jan. “Art and Artists.” The Observer, 19 November 1939, p. 8.

    Hedley, Gill. “Three female gallerists who changed the course of British art.” 29 September 2016, Royal Academy of Arts, Accessed 27 January 2021.

    Niederacher, Sonja. “Dossier zu Egon Schiele Deuring-Schlösschen, 1912, Leopold Museum Privatstiftung LM Inv. Nr. 2373.” 31 December 2014, docplayer, Accessed 21 February 2021.

    Private Wire. “Our London Correspondence.” The Manchester Guardian, 30 September 1939, p. 8.

    Story, Ala. Impressionism and its influence in American Art, exh. cat. Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, 1954.

    Story, Ala. Paintings by Oskar Kokoschka, exh. cat. Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, 1954.

    Story, Ala. The First West Coast Retrospective Exhibition of Paintings by William Merritt Chase (1849–1916), exh. cat. Art Gallery, University of California, Santa Barbara, 1964.

    Story, Ala. Paul Klee. Oils, Watercolors, Gouaches, Drawings, Prints from the James Gilvarry Collection, exh. cat. Art Gallery, University of California, Santa Barbara, 1967.

    Story, Ala. First Comprehensive Retrospective Exhibition in the West of Oils, Gouaches. Pastels, Drawings and Graphic Works by Max Weber (1881–1961), exh. cat. Art Gallery, University of California, Santa Barbara, 1968.

    Story, Ala. Constructive Tendencies, exh. cat. Art Gallery, University of California, Santa Barbara, 1970.

    Story, Ala. Trends in Twentieth Century Art, exh. cat. Art Gallery, University of California, Santa Barbara, 1970.

    Taylor, Brandon. Art for the Nation: Exhibitions and the London Public 1747–2001. Manchester University Press, 1999.

    The Ala Story Collection of Art in the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, exh. cat. Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, 1971.

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  • Archives of American Art, Washington D.C., Ala Story papers (1941–1970).

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  • My deepest thanks go to Santa Barbara Museum of Art for granting me permission to reproduce William Dole’s Ala’s Story.

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  • Burcu Dogramaci
  • London, GB (early 1930s?–1940), New York and Santa Barbara, US (1940–1972).

  • Beaux Arts Gallery, 1 Bruton Place, Mayfair, London W1 (workplace); Redfern Gallery, 20 Cork Street, Mayfair, London W1 (workplace, 1936?); Lucy Wertheim Gallery, 3–5 Burlington Gardens, Westend, London W1; Storran Gallery, Albany Courtyard, Mayfair, London W1 (workplace); Stafford Gallery/British Art Centre, 13 St. James’s place, St. James’s, London SW1 (workplace, 1938–1940).

  • London
  • Burcu Dogramaci. "Ala Story." METROMOD Archive, 2021,, last modified: 20-06-2021.
  • Gerty Simon

    The Berlin photographer Gerty Simon established a studio in Chelsea, London. Her solo exhibition Camera Portraits from 1935 featured a distinctive portrait of the émigré art dealer Alfred Flechtheim (shown above).

    Word Count: 30

    Roland, Browse & Delbanco
    GalleryArt Dealer

    Émigré art historians and art dealers, Henry Roland and Gustav Delbanco, along with Lillian Browse, opened their Mayfair gallery, Roland, Browse & Delbanco, in 1945.

    Word Count: 24

    Hanover Gallery
    Art Gallery

    The Hanover Gallery was founded by Erica Brausen and dedicated to interwar modernism and contemporary art, supporting the early careers of Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and Niki de Saint Phalle.

    Word Count: 30

    Ruth Bernhard
    New York

    Ruth Bernhard was a German émigré photographer who lived in New York from the 1920s to the 1940s. Beside her series on female nudes, her place in the photography network, as well as in the New York queer scene, is unknown and understudied.

    Word Count: 43

    Norlyst Gallery
    GalleryArt Gallery
    New York

    Founded in 1943 by the American painter and art collector Elenore Lust, the Norlyst Gallery represented a cross section of contemporary painting, photography and other media focusing on surrealist and abstract expressionist styles and promoting women artists and photographers.

    Word Count: 38

    Weyhe Gallery
    Art Gallery
    New York

    Opened in 1919 by the German-born art dealer Erhard Weyhe opened a bookstore and gallery space specialised in contemporary European artists and was the first to specialise in prints.

    Word Count: 28

    Julien Levy Gallery
    Art Gallery
    New York

    The Julien Levy Gallery was founded by the art dealer Julien Levy (1906–1981) in 1931, and was situated in the New York gallery district around 57th Street, where the Weyhe and Norlyst Gallery were also located.

    Word Count: 34

    American-British Art Center
    Art Center
    New York

    The émigré gallerist Ala Story left London for New York around 1940, where she co-founded the American-British Art Center, which introduced British and US artists to the public.

    Word Count: 27