Chagall coup at centre of Ben Uri London Jewish Museum's bid for a new home

By Culture24 Staff | 11 January 2010
A picture of a painting of a crucifixion scene

(Above) Marc Chagall, Apocalypse en Lilas, Capriccio (1945-47). Gouache, Lavis et encre de Chine sur papier. Signée en bas à gauche. Ben Uri collection, The London Museum of Art (2009)

Exhibition: Apocalypse, Ben Uri London Jewish Museum of Art, London, until January 31 2010

Kicking off the London Jewish Museum of Art's search for a new home, the planning process for this showcase of the Ben Uri collection faced dramatic change and blazing publicity when the Gallery managed to buy a rare Marc Chagall masterpiece at the last minute.

Spotted hidden in an obscure catalogue, Apocalypse in Lilac is Chagall’s private response to the horror of the Holocaust, and has never been exhibited or published outside of archive recordings until now.

Emergency funding was secured in less than a week from The Art Fund, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council and the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Purchase Grant Fund.

"This acquisition is a triumph for scholarship and British ethics of hard work and determination," says Ben Uri Chairman David Glasser.

"It would have been so easy to conclude that seven days was all too short for anyone to prepare a case for funding and have it addressed."

The piece itself is a violent and searingly emotive visualisation from the artist, showing the Jewish Christ, which Chagall depicted in seven years of paintings beginning before the onset of World War II.

"This is Chagall's deeply personal expression of horror and mourning for the Jewish civilisation almost wiped out by the Nazis, merged with grief for his late wife Bella, who died eight months earlier," says Glasser.

"The news of the mass genocide pouring through the media on the defeat of the Nazis appears to have been the stimulus to bring Chagall back to his easel after eight months of mourning."

A picture of a stone sculpture of a man

Sir Jacob Epstein, Jacob Kramer (1921). Bronze. Ben Uri collection, The London Museum of Art (2009)

The piece is one of 50 displayed at the Osborne Samuel space, including works by Frank Auerbach, Sir Jacob Epstein and Emmanuel Levy.

This is the first exhibition held by the Ben Uri since September, when it was forced to abandon two shows after its temporary home in Boundary Road was abruptly closed for urgent repairs.

It remains prolific across the country through travelling exhibitions and touring education programmes, and narrowly missed out on winning a competition to occupy the new Theatre Museum space in Covent Garden.

A new 20,000sq metre space is the target for Glasser, who hopes the Chagall coup will embolden their campaign.

"The Art Institute of Chicago, The Musee d'Arte Moderne in Paris, The Israel Museum and now Ben Uri in London are the four museums across the world that are custodians of this hugely important but tiny body of work where Chagall employs a Jewish Christ between 1938 and 1945," he explains.

"If the Jewish community and London in general ever need a reason to find an appropriate central London building for this extraordinary museum, this Chagall is surely it."

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