Start Over

Jussuf Abbo

  • The Berlin sculptor Jussuf Abbo emigrated together with his family to London in 1935, where he received a limited number of commissions and participated in a few group exhibitions.
  • Jussuf
  • Abbo
  • Joseph M. Abbo

  • 1890
  • Ẕefat (IL)
  • 29-08-1953
  • London (GB)
  • SculptorGraphic Artist
  • The Berlin sculptor Jussuf Abbo emigrated together with his family to London in 1935, where he received a limited number of commissions and participated in a few group exhibitions.

    Word Count: 28

  • Jussuf Abbo, Selbstbildnis, in Der Querschnitt, vol. 4, no. 1, 1924, p. 71 (Photo: Private Archive, © Estate of Jussuf Abbo).
  • Jussuf Abbo was born to Jewish parents in Safed around 1890, in Upper Galilee in Palestine – then part of the Ottoman Empire – and lived in Berlin from 1911. Abbo studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin-Charlottenburg. In the 1910s and 1920s, Jussuf Abbo, who was successful both as a sculptor and a graphic artist, belonged to the circle of artists around the poet Else Lasker-Schüler, of whom he produced several portraits and to whom he rented his studio for a time. Abbo held studios at Berlin-Tiergarten (Königin-Augusta-Strasse 51) and the Grunewald (Herbertstrasse 1). The sculptor was represented during those years at a number of renowned galleries (for example, those of Paul Cassirer, Karl Nierendorf, Ferdinand Möller) and at art institutions in Germany and abroad.

    Soon after the National Socialists took power, Abbo decided to emigrate, since, because of his Jewish origins, he feared for the safety of his family and his professional existence.  After the First World War and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the artist had become a stateless person. He was able to obtain an Egyptian passport. A first planned emigration to Holland failed, but in 1935 Jussuf Abbo, his artist wife Ruth Abbo (formerly Schulz) and their son Jerome managed to flee to London, where they lived in impoverished circumstances. Since most of his tools and work had been left behind in Germany, he could neither produce new work nor exhibit his earlier creations and Abbo’s entry into the art world initially took the form of working for other artists, earning a living as a caster. In Germany, the erasure of his legacy took place, when in 1937, in the context of the Entartete Kunst confiscation, numerous works by Abbo were seized from the collections of the Hamburger Kunsthalle, the Kunsthalle Mannheim, the Schlesisches Museum für bildende Künste in Breslau, the Museum für Kunst und Heimatgeschichte in Erfurt, and the Kunsthütte Chemnitz, thus removing them from public arena.

    Meanwhile, in London, Abbo experienced a period of uncertainty in difficult financial circumstances, and the family took lodgings in a furnished attic flat (1 Grove Terrace, Parliament Hill).  Abbo’s early years in London were marked by attempts to build new networks with collectors, museums (Victoria & Albert Museum, Tate Gallery) and gallerists, to organise exhibitions and to obtain portrait commissions. Although Abbo was able to set up a small studio in 1936, and in 1937 several of his works arrived from Germany, he did not have an opportunity to present his work to the public in a solo exhibition. In 1938 he moved into a small studio in the artists district of Hampstead (Lambolle Road), while he and his family found accommodation nearby (first in Parkhill Road, then later in Strathray Gardens). In the summer of 1938 Abbo was able to take part in the Contemporary Art exhibition in Osterley Park. Probably the most important commissioned work was a portrait bust of George Lansbury done in the summer of 1938. Lansbury was a politician, pacifist and former leader of the Labour Party. The sculptor Ethel Pye was able to arrange another portrait commission for Abbo in 1940 for a portrait bust of the poet Thomas Sturge Moore.

    At the end of 1941, Abbo took part in the Exhibition of Sculpture, Pottery and Sculptors’ Drawings, which the Free German League of Culture (Freier Deutscher Kulturbund) organised together with the Artists’ International Association in their clubhouse in Upper Park Road in London. In December 1941, the League’s monthly newsletter Freie Deutsche Kultur looked back on the successful exhibition, which was “praised by English critics as well as the emigration press”. The text particularly highlights a bust by Abbo as “splendid work[ing]” and refers to the acclaim for and sales of Abbo’s pottery on display (Anonymous 1941). On seeing his work in the exhibition, the artist Kurt Schwitters, also exiled in London, contacted Abbo. The two had known each other in Hanover since the 1920s.
    Abbo also took part in exhibitions held at other institutions in the 1940s: at the Leger Gallery he participated in Contemporary Continental Art (1941), Nudes (1942 and 1943) and Modern Paintings and Sculpture (1945). Works by Abbo were included in the 1943 Artists of Fame and of Promise group exhibition at the Leicester Galleries in London and in the Opening Exhibition at the Ben Uri Gallery in 1944. The sculptor is listed there with a torso as catalogue no. 1 and “A. Panofsky” is named as the lender. This probably refers to the Berlin banker Alfred Max Panofsky, who emigrated to London in 1938.

    Nevertheless, Abbo was unable to make a living through art alone. He therefore eked out a meagre existence by trading in antiques, as a farm labourer and a construction worker, and was part of a crew that carried out bomb damage repairs. Because he had an Egyptian passport, Abbo was not interned as an ‘enemy alien’. In 1939 Ruth Abbo and the children moved to a house in Sussex, hoping that the low rent there would enable Abbo to keep his studio space in London. During this period, Abbo rented a furnished room in Byne Road in the London borough of Sydenham. It is not unimportant to be aware of the artist's various addresses and living and working conditions. Repeated moves, for example, were part of the existence of many emigrants, who competed in the housing market with the local population and other non-Brits. Ruth Abbo described the living conditions of the family in London: “We changed our flat several times. The rooms were always highly unhygienic and it was terribly difficult to maintain a certain level of cleanliness and personal care. We all suffered physically and mentally under these conditions.” (Abbo 1957, translated from German)
    Abbo’s last residential address in London shows how precarious his situation was. Sydenham was in south-east London, far from the city centre and his studio. The district had also been badly hit by German bombs in 1940/41, so must have had many destroyed buildings when Abbo moved into a furnished room there. Although the sculptor had thus rented cheap living accommodation, he was unable to keep his studio, from which he was evicted in 1945. He thereupon destroyed most of the works he had created there, since he could not afford to move them and lacked adequate room for them anyway. He also sold his tools.

    Abbo died in 1953, a physically and spiritually broken artist who could no longer find recognition for his work. Ruth Abbo’s account of two damaged lives – she too had rarely been able to find work as an artist – written for her “Antrag auf Entschädigung” (Application under the Federal Act on Compensation for Victims of National Socialist Persecution) is a deeply moving document. It contains statements by the artist-dealer Gustav Delbanco of the Roland, Browse & Delbanco Gallery: “Being uprooted from Germany threw Jussuf Abbo off course so much that he was severely hampered in his further development as an artist, and his collapse can certainly be explained in large part by this twist of fate.” (Delbanco, in: Zucker/Zuriel 1959, translated from German)

    The surviving work of Abbo produced in the United Kingdom nevertheless points to artistic continuity. Compared to the portrait busts of the 1920s, however, it must be stated that Abbo acted less freely in his dealings with his models. Identification and representation seem to have been required elements in such commissioned works as the portrait bust of George Lansbury. The close resemblance of the portrait to the model shows that Abbo, unlike in his busts from the 1920s, worked naturalistically in order to render the physiognomic characteristics of his model as accurately as possible. Abbo was able, however, to work much more freely in clay. His portrait of a sleeping girl shows his characteristic rough treatment of the surface, which materialises the movements of the modelling hands. The malleable clay allowed for an immediate, emotional way of working. The sitter has her head tilted to one side, her shoulders raised, her eyes closed. Although the terracotta clay bust appears unfinished, Abbo succeeded in sensitively translating the expression of sleeping. It is impossible to say whether such works were exhibited or whether they were sketches for sculptures to be executed later in other materials.
    In 2017, a commemorative plaque for Jussuf Abbo was put up in Reichspietschufer in Berlin. One year later, Jussuf Abbos’ family donated a collection of prints to the Berlinische Galerie, the Jewish Museum Berlin and the Sprengel Museum Hannover. The first monograph on Jussuf Abbo was published in 2019 (Schöne 2019).

    Word Count: 1413

  • Else Lasker-Schüler, “Jussuff Abbu.” Berliner Börsen-Courier, vol. 55, no. 327, 15 July 1923, p. 5 (Photo: Private Archive).
    Jussuf Abbo, Untitled [Else Lasker Schüler?], n.d. [1920s], lithograph, 52 x 39,5 cm (Photo: Burcu Dogramaci, 2010, © Estate of Jussuf Abbo).
    Genja Jonas, Portrait Jussuf Abbo, 1926 (© Estate of Jussuf Abbo).
    Jussuf Abbo, Untitled [Thomas Sturge Moore?], n.d. [1940], bronze, H. 27 cm (Photo: Burcu Dogramaci, 2010, © Estate of Jussuf Abbo).
    Jussuf Abo, Untitled, 1928, plaster, 36 x 29 x 22 cm (Photo: Burcu Dogramaci, 2010, © Estate of Jussuf Abbo).
    Jussuf Abo, Untitled, n.d., clay, coloured, 37,5 x 18 cm (Photo: Burcu Dogramaci, 2010, © Estate of Jussuf Abbo).
    Jussuf Abbo, Untitled [sleeping girl], n.d. [c. 1939/40], clay (© Estate of Jussuf Abbo).
    Jussuf Abbo, Untitled [c. 1939/40], n.d., clay, 15 x 36 cm (© Estate of Jussuf Abbo).
    Review of the Exhibition of Sculpture, Pottery and Sculptors’ Drawings in the monthly newsletter Freie Deutsche Kultur (no. 12, 1941, p. 10). The exhibition was organised by the Free German League of Culture and the Artists International Association. Abbo is mentioned twice with reference to a bronze bust and potteries (Deutsche Nationalbibliothek, Deutsches Exilarchiv 1933–1945, Frankfurt am Main).
    Jussuf Abbo took part in the Opening Exhibition at Ben Uri Art Gallery in 1944 (© Ben Uri Archive).
    Opening Exhibition, exh cat. Ben Uri Gallery, London, 1944, p. 4–5 with Abbo’s Torso listed as first entry (© Ben Uri Archive).
    Kurt Schwitters’s London address book, undated [1941/1945] (Sprengel Museum Hannover, Kurt Schwitters Archiv, Hannover, Leihgabe Kurt und Ernst Schwitters Stiftung, Hannover). On the right is the address of Abbo’s studio at Lambolle Road and a reference to the Abbo family in Sussex.
  • Abbo, Ruth. Handschriftliches Manuskript (Estate of Jussuf Abbo, Brighton, 26 September 1957).

    Abbo, Ruth. “Über den Verlust einer Existenz. Jussuf Abbo im Exil.” Kunst im Exil in Großbritannien 1933–1945, exh. cat. Neue Gesellschaft für bildende Kunst, Berlin, 1986, pp. 181–184.

    Anonymous. “Bildhauer stellen aus.” Freie Deutsche Kultur, no. 12, 1941, p. 10.

    Dickson, Rachel. “Emigré Artists and the Ben Uri.” Forced Journeys. Artists in Exile in Britain c. 1933–45, edited by Rachel Dickson and Sarah MacDougall, exh. cat. Ben Uri Gallery. The London Jewish Museum of Art, London, 2009, pp. 86–90.

    Dogramaci, Burcu. Deutschland, fremde Heimat. Zur Rückkehr emigrierter Bildhauer nach 1945 = Germany, a Foreign Land. The Return of Émigré Sculptors after 1945 (Schriftenreihe des Kunsthauses Dahlem). Kunsthaus Dahlem, 2015.

    Dogramaci, Burcu. “Jussufs Gedicht für Jussuf Abbo.” Der Blaue Reiter ist gefallen. Else Lasker-Schüler Jubiläumsalmanach, edited by Hajo Jahn and Else-Lasker-Schüler-Gesellschaft, Peter Hammer Verlag, 2015, pp. 275–277.

    Dogramaci, Burcu. “Nach dem Exil: Remigration als künstlerische Rückkehr / After Exile – Remigration as Artistic Return.” Neue/Alte Heimat. R/emigration von Künstlerinnen und Künstlern nach 1945 = New/old homeland. r/emigration of artists after 1945 (Schriftenreihe des Kunsthaus Dahlem), edited by Dorothea Schöne, exh. cat. Kunsthaus Dahlem, Berlin, 2017, pp. 10–57.

    Dogramaci, Burcu. “Abbo in Exile, oder: Von der Schwierigkeit kulturellen Über-Setzens / Abbo in Exile, or: On the Difficulty of Cultural Translation.” Jussuf Abbo, edited by Dorothea Schöne, exh. cat. Kunsthaus Dahlem, Berlin, 2019, pp. 99–125.

    Jussuf Abbo, edited by Dorothea Schöne, exh. cat. Kunsthaus Dahlem, Berlin, 2019.

    Lasker-Schüler, Else, “Jussuff Abbu.” Berliner Börsen-Courier, vol. 55, no. 327, 15 July 1923, p. 5.  

    Vinzent, Jutta. Identity and Image. Refugee Artists from Nazi Germany in Britain (1933–1945) (Schriften der Guernica-Gesellschaft, 16). VDG, 2006.

    Zucker, Heinrich, and R. S. Zuriel, Lawyer. Letter to Entschädigungsamt Berlin (Estate of Jussuf Abbo, Brighton, 11 May 1959).

    Word Count: 282

  • Word Count: 4

  • My deepest thanks go to the Abbo family, especially Angela and Sebastian Abbo and the late Jerome Abbo, who kindly introduced me to the works of Abbo in the family estate. I am grateful to Shulamith Behr, Rachel Dickson and Sarah MacDougall, for their help. I would like to express my gratitude to Dorothea Schöne from Kunsthaus Dahlem for her continued enthusiasm for the work of Jussuf Abbo and her commitment to remembering his work. I am grateful to the Ben Uri Archive, London, and to the Sprengel Museum Hannover, Kurt Schwitters Archive, with special thanks to Karin Orchard for allowing me to reproduce the illustrations used in this entry.

    Word Count: 111

  • Burcu Dogramaci
  • London, GB (1935–1953).

  • 1 Grove Terrace, Highgate, London N1 (residence, c. 1935–1936); 7 Lambolle Road, Hampstead, London NW3 (studio, c. 1938–1945); ? Parkhill Road, Hampstead, London NW3 (residence, 1938); Strathray Gardens, Belsize Park, London NW3 (residence, 1938–1939); ? Byne Road, Sydenham, London SE26 (residence, c. 1944–1947).

  • London
  • Burcu Dogramaci. "Jussuf Abbo." METROMOD Archive, 2021,, last modified: 03-11-2022.
  • Kurt Schwitters

    The artist and poet Kurt Schwitters lived in London between 1941 and 1945, where he stood in contact to émigré and local artists, before moving to the Lake District.

    Word Count: 27

    Freie Deutsche Kultur

    The Free German League of Culture was an association of emigrant artists and authors who organised exhibitions, concerts and lectures. The events were announced in the Freie Deutsche Kultur newsletter.

    Word Count: 30

    Ludwig Meidner, Drawings 1920–1922 and 1935–49, Else Meidner, Paintings and Drawings 1935–1949

    In 1949, a joint exhibition of works by Ludwig and Else Meidner opened at the Ben Uri Art Gallery. It was the first solo exhibition of the artists in London.

    Word Count: 29

    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