Eva Frankfurther

Born in Berlin to an assimilated Jewish family, Eva Frankfurther emigrated with her family to the UK in 1939 to begin a new life in London. At the age of just 16, she enrolled at St Martin’s School of Art where she studied until 1951, alongside Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff. Whilst still studying, Frankfurther repeatedly traveled  to the United States and later across Europe, where her interest in black and immigrant communities first took hold. After leaving art school and becoming disillusioned by the London art scene, Frankfurther moved to Whitechapel, where she immersed herself in the local community and began earning a living through non-artistic means. The subjects of her paintings reflected this; often depicting her immigrant co-workers at the Lyons Corner House in Piccadilly, a bustling cafeteria that employed approximately 400 staff.

“West Indian, Irish, Cypriot and Pakistani immigrants, English whom the Welfare State had passed by, these were the people amongst whom I lived and made some of my best friends…”

Frankfurther’s signature style employs loose brushwork and dry paint applied sparingly with a focus on portraiture and the human form. Her use of oil on paper reflects the financial constraints she worked under and equally the way in which she distanced herself from the high-art conventions and middle-class milieu in which she had been raised.

“Her instinctive sympathy for workers, immigrants and other people on the margins was probably due at least in part to her own experience as  a German-Jewish exile and an outsider, but also allowed her a remarkable insight into their inner lives, in which she revealed herself to be above all an artist ‘of vision and compassion’.”

– An Excerpt taken from Sarah MacDougall’s chapter – The Lives of Others: Eva Frankfurther, in the exhibition catalogue ‘Reconfiguring the 50s’.

‘West Indian Waitresses’ by Eva Frankfurther c1955. Photo Courtesy of the Ben Uri Gallery.

Tragically, Frankfurther took her own life at the age of 29. Her works were regularly exhibited during group shows at the Whitechapel Gallery, and since her death, there have also been several solo shows, including at the Ben Uri Gallery, Clare College Cambridge, the Margaret Fisher Gallery, and Bedford Central Library.