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Modern Art Gallery

  • The Modern Art Gallery, founded by the émigré painter, sculptor and writer Jack Bilbo, was a forum for the presentation of modern art, specialising in the work of emigrant artists.
  • Modern Art Gallery
  • Art Gallery
  • The Modern Art Gallery, founded by the émigré painter, sculptor and writer Jack Bilbo, was a forum for the presentation of modern art, specialising in the work of emigrant artists.

    Word Count: 30

  • Jack Bilbo’s Modern Art Gallery was a combined gallery, publishing house and forum, thereby following in the footsteps of the Berlin gallery Der Sturm, founded by Herwarth Walden in the 1910s as an exhibiting and publishing institution as well as a contact zone. Jack Bilbo’s (1907–1967) Modern Art Gallery in London, which existed between 1941 and 1948, was an important forum for the presentation of modern art. It was not least moral and (art) political concerns that triggered the founding of the gallery. The gallery owner writes that “the modern art gallery was founded by Jack Bilbo in wartime, with the sole aim and purpose of helping art to survive, and of giving the artist and the public a possibility of doing their part in the intellectual fight against dictatorial reactionism”. (Bilbo 1942, n.p.)

    Jack Bilbo, whose real name was Hugo Baruch, came from a Jewish family in Berlin. His father and uncle owned a theatre equipment shop. Baruch became a journalist and crime writer under the pseudonym Jack Bilbo, and was also politically active against rising National Socialism (Woodeson 1986, 49). After the Nazis came to power, Bilbo was imprisoned for anti-fascist activities, but managed to escape to England via France and Spain. Bilbo's parents became victims of National Socialism: his father committed suicide after fleeing to Spain, his mother was murdered in the Tötungsanstalt Brandenburg an der Havel in 1940.

    Jack Bilbo lived in exile in London from 1936, where he began painting and sculpting. In 1943 he had a solo exhibition at the Alex Reid & Lefèvre Gallery. Even before that, during his internment in the Onchan Camp on the Isle of Wight, Jack Bilbo organised cultural and educational activities, organising a folk university, concerts, readings and exhibitions (ibid.). On his return to London, Bilbo opened his Modern Art Gallery on the first floor of 12 Baker Street, Marylebone on 2 October 1941 – while London was still being bombed. The gallery was to be dedicated to modern art, especially the work of emigrant artists.
    In 1942, he noted that the institution attracted a large number of visitors and was well received by critics and buyers: “The seeds fell on productive soil. Thousands of people visited the exhibitions, the serious critics wrote most favourably, the bogus ones were kept away. Artists had great successes, and to everyone's surprise even quite a lot of pictures were sold.” (Bilbo 1942, n.p.) In 1943, the gallery moved to 24 Charles II Street in St. Georges’s. It showed works by emigrated artists such as Jacob Bauerfreund (1942), Hein Heckroth (1943), Samson Shames (1942 and 1943), Kurt Schwitters (1944) and Viktor Weisz (1943), who published political cartoons under the pseudonym Vicky (Woodeson 1986, p. 50f.; Bilbo 1948). The Modern Art Gallery also regularly showed female artists such as Anna Mayerson (1942), Ena Croom-Johnson and Doris Hatt (1944). Occasionally, it was also possible to include internationally renowned names in the gallery programme, as with an exhibition on Pablo Picasso (Bilbo 1945).

    Unlike other galleries also founded by emigrants, such as Hanover Gallery, Marlborough Fine Art and St. George’s Gallery, Jack Bilbo mostly offered exhibition opportunities to less prominent artists – or to those who already had a career behind them but were still struggling on the London art market. In doing so, Bilbo gave presence to a large number of fledging artists who would otherwise have had little presence in the British art market. In the process, he succeeded in attracting well-known authors for his exhibition catalogues. For example, the journalist Gerald Barry contributed the introduction to the catalogue on Vicky, and the art critic Herbert Read wrote the catalogue texts on Kurt Schwitters and the theatre artist Hein Heckroth, ensuring a certain amount of public and press attention. Reviews of the Schwitters and Heckroth exhibitions appeared in The Studio magazine (Woodeson 1986, 50). But other exhibitions also received media coverage, such as Anna Mayerson’s exhibition that was reviewed in The Tribune (6 March 1942, p. 22). Good press contacts – Bilbo was friends with Jan and Cora Gordon, for example, who wrote reviews for The Studio – ensured the gallery’s presence in the public eye (Vinzent 2005, 87).

    Jack Bilbo’s own emigrant experience contributed to his interest and esteem for other emigrants. In addition, he spoke German and was thus a dialogue partner for German-speaking emigrants to whom they had access even without knowing English (Vinzent 2005, 310). Bilbo provided a public forum for artists who had fled to London but had few functioning networks and often little capital. His gallery thus formed a counterpart to the Ben Uri Gallery, whose peer group was Jewish artists. In the process, some artists such as Samson Schames and Kurt Schwitters exhibited in both places. Schames, for example, was featured in several group exhibitions at the Ben Uri Art Gallery 1944–1946 (
    Bilbo’s gallery also attracted an intellectual local audience, including the writers H. G. Wells and J. B. Priestley, film and theatre personalities like Michael Redgrave and Richard Attenborough, as well as politicians such as George and Santo Jeger (Woodeson 1986, 50). The Modern Art Gallery also hosted evening events, such as readings by Kurt Schwitters, so that Bilbo created a performative contact hub of exchange between local and emigrant Londoners.    

    In 1945, Jack Bilbo published his book The Moderns. Past – Present – Future, in which he acknowledged the paradoxes of a retrospective view of an art that had repeatedly constituted itself as progressive/modern and was now largely historical. The book brought together the work of artists like Cézanne, Van Gogh, Utrillo and Braque, but also contemporary works by László Moholy-Nagy, Henry Moore, Kurt Schwitters and Bilbo himself. The publication gave Bilbo the opportunity to inscribe his own work in an art history of modernism and at the same time to appear as a chronicler and promoter. For his richly illustrated, though slim, catalogue described a canon of his own, ranging from the modernists of the 19th century to the 1940s. The choice of artists is remarkable because Bilbo included work by women artists in his selection – including the surrealist Marion Adnams and the painter Ursula MacCannell – as well as work by emigrants such as Kurt Schwitters and Samson Schames. In his introductory text, Bilbo justifies the selection by personal preference and his experience as owner of the Modern Art Gallery: “Not every modern painter and painting can be mentioned in this book. That would take volumes and volumes. So I have mentioned and chosen only those artists and paintings which I as an artist, author and manager of the modern art gallery find most interesting. Fame or obscurity stand the same chance. I have included three of my own paintings in the book, because I think them good. You see, dear reader, I am not modest.” (Bilbo 1945, n.p.) And Bilbo continues: “My friends Schames and Marion Adnams likewise belong to this category of great and warm-hearted painters - with a terrific portion of sensitiveness. They have suffered much in life, like the four mentioned above, but like them, instead of becoming bitter, petty and hateful they have become great painters and great human beings. Graham Sutherland, Henry Moore, Jacob Epstein (his sculpture), Ben Nicholson, Jankel Adler, Edward Burra, Leslie Hurry, Henrik Gotlyb, Frances Hodgkins, Fred Uhlmann, Ivon Hitchens, Feliks Topolski, Julian Trevelyan, John Tunnard and Ceri Richards are also artists living in this country who in spite of the negativity of our time were able to burst the chains and grey walls of their environment, and whose work and personalities I therefore admire.” (Bilbo 1945, n.p.)
    With this list, Bilbo created a common space for British and emigrant artists, for the sucessful and the unknown, because: “In the modern art gallery merit alone counts. Some contributors are famous or rising artists, others are entirely unknown. Fame or sales value do not influence the selection of work; a famous artist may be rejected just as easily as an unknown artist accepted.” (Bilbo 1942, n.p.)

    After Bilbo closed his London gallery, he first moved to Weybridge, stayed for a time in France, then, together with his wife, remigrated to Berlin in the 1950s, where he once again created a social contact zone in post-war Germany as the owner of Käpt’n Bilbos Hafenspelunke, a pub in Berlin-Charlottenburg, in the immediate vicinity of his childhood home (Kunisch 2018; Lugmeier 2017). Bilbo’s pub was also frequented by the writer Henry Miller, who wrote the foreword to his autobiography (Käpt'n Bilbo 1963). Jack Bilbo later ran a curiosity shop in Berlin-Schöneberg and was buried in the Jewish Cemetery Heerstrasse after his death in 1968.
    The England & Co. Gallery in London has represented the estate of Jack Bilbo since 1988. In the context of his exhibition at the Stiftung Brandenburger Tor in the Max Liebermann Haus in 2017, the painter Daniel Richter curated a show with works by Jack Bilbo and showed works of his own created in dialogue with Jack Bilbo (Im Atelier Liebermann 2017).

    Word Count: 1470

  • 12 Baker Street, Marylebone, London W1 (1941–1943); 24 Charles II Street, St. James’s, London SW1 (1943–1948).

  • Cover of Jack Bilbo’s The Moderns. Past – Present – Future, published in 1945 under The Modern Art Gallery Ltd imprint (Bilbo 1945).
  • Jack Bilbo’s Modern Art Gallery was located at 24 Charles II Street, St. James’s, London SW1 from 1943 (Bilbo 1948, 16).
    Leaflet advertising the December exhibition held at the Modern Art Gallery on Masterpieces by Great Masters, also featuring Paintings and Sculptures by Kurt Schwitters, Modern Art Gallery Ltd., 1944 (Tate Archive, TGA 9510/4/8/1, Photo © Tate, CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported)).
    Page with works by László Moholy-Nagy, Kurt Schwitters and Henry Moore in Jack Bilbo’s The Moderns. Past – Present – Future, 1945 (Bilbo 1945, 28).
    Title page of Jack Bilbo’s book An Autobiography, 1948 (Bilbo 1948).
    Lunch at Jack Bilbo’s Modern Art Gallery (Bilbo 1948, 17).
  • Bilbo, Jack. Reflections in an Art Gallery. In Celebration of the First Anniversary of the Modern Art Gallery, exh. cat. Modern Art Gallery, London, 1942.

    Bilbo, Jack. Pablo Picasso. Thirty important paintings from 1904 to 1943, exh. cat. Modern Art Gallery, London, 1945.

    Bilbo, Jack. The Moderns. Past – Present – Future. The Modern Art Gallery Ltd., 1945.

    Bilbo, Jack. An Autobiography. The Modern Art Gallery Ltd., 1948.

    Bilbo, Jack. Pfui Teufel. Matari Verlag, 1968.

    Dickson, Rachel. “‚Our horizon is the barbed wire‘: Artistic Life in the British Internment Camps.” Insiders Outsiders. Refugees from Nazi Europe and their Contribution to British Visual Culture, edited by Monica Bohm-Duchen, Lund Humphries, 2019, pp. 147–156.

    Im Atelier Liebermann: Daniel Richter / Jack Bilbo, exh. cat. Stiftung Brandenburger Tor, Max Liebermann Haus, Berlin, 2017.

    Käpt’n Bilbo [Jack Bilbo]. Rebell aus Leidenschaft. Abenteurer, Maler, Philosoph. Preface by Henry Miller. Horst Erdmann, 1963.

    Kunisch, Hans-Peter. “Jack Bilbo. Unstillbarer Durst nach Freiheit.” Zeit Online, 19 January 2018, Accessed 16 February 2021.

    Lugmeier, Ludwig. Das Leben des Käpt’n Bilbo. Verbrecher Verlag, 2017.

    Pross, Steffen. “In London treffen wir uns wieder”. Vier Spaziergänge durch ein vergessenes Kapitel deutscher Kulturgeschichte nach 1933. Eichhorn, 2000.

    Vinzent, Jutta. “Muteness as Utterance of a Forced Reality – Jack Bilbo’s Modern Art Gallery (1941–1948).” Arts in Exile in Britain 1933–1945. Politics and Cultural Identity (The Yearbook of the Research Centre for German and Austrian Exile Studies, 6 (2004)), edited by Shulamith Behr and Marian Malet, Rodopi, 2005, pp. 301–337.

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

    Woodeson, Merry Kerr. “Jack Bilbo und seine ‚Modern Art Gallery‘. London 1941–1946.” Kunst im Exil in Großbritannien 1933–1945, exh. cat. Neue Gesellschaft für bildende Kunst, Berlin, 1986, pp. 49–52.

    Word Count: 273

  • Burcu Dogramaci
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  • Burcu Dogramaci. "Modern Art Gallery." METROMOD Archive, 2021,, last modified: 19-06-2021.
  • 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

    Herbert Read
    Art HistorianArt CriticPoet

    The British art historian Herbert Read established himself as a central figure in the London artistic scene in the 1930s and was one of the outstanding supporters of exiled artists.

    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

    László Moholy-Nagy
    PhotographerGraphic DesignerPainterSculptor

    László Moholy-Nagy emigrated to London in 1935, where he worked in close contact with the local avantgarde and was commissioned for window display decoration, photo books, advertising and film work.

    Word Count: 30

    Marlborough Fine Art
    Art Gallery

    Marlborough Fine Art was founded in 1946 by the Viennese emigrants Harry Fischer and Frank Lloyd in the Mayfair district, focused on Impressionists, Modern and Contemporary Art.

    Word Count: 26

    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

    St. George’s Gallery
    Art Gallery

    In 1943, the art dealer Lea Bondi Jaray, with support of Otto Brill, also exiled from Vienna, took over St. George’s Gallery in Mayfair, exhibiting contemporary British and continental art.

    Word Count: 30