Svendborg Harbour, Denmark
Martin Bloch initially trained as an architect and later studied drawing in Berlin under Lovis Corinth, exhibiting at the Paul Cassirer Gallery. He held his first solo exhibition in Berlin in 1911, travelled to Paris and Spain, then returned to Berlin to co-found a painting school. After fleeing via Denmark, Bloch settled in London, opening a second painting school with Australian painter Roy de Maistre (1894–1968). He exhibited in the controversial Exhibition of Twentieth-Century German Art at the New Burlington Galleries in 1938 and held his first solo London show at the Lefevre Gallery in 1939.
Between 1940 and 1941 he was one of many ‘enemy aliens’ interned, first at Huyton Camp, Liverpool, then briefly on the Isle of Man. In later years, his fluid style of painting and spontaneous use of colour inspired his students at the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts. A regular exhibitor with Ben Uri, he held a joint exhibition with Josef Herman (cat. 36) at Portman Street in 1949 and a memorial exhibition was curated by Ben Uri in 1963. His work also featured in Ben Uri’s Festival of Britain Anglo-Jewish Exhibition 1851–1951 Art Section, an adjunct to the main Anglo-Jewish Exhibition held at University College.
This claustrophobic depiction of boats in a crowded harbour, a classic symbol of exile, was painted during the artist’s brief stay in Denmark after he fled Nazi Germany in 1934. Despite the traumatic experience of flight, it is full of energy and colour. Drawing on his German expressionist roots, Bloch pares down form into simple shapes and conveys emotion through the use of heightened purples, greens and mustard yellows. The compression of the perspective into a single, suffocating plane jams the boats against the harbour and creates a distinct uneasiness. This is one of three works by Bloch in the Ben Uri Collection.