Eva Frankfurther artist (1930-1959)

Artist biography

'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. My colleagues and teachers were painters concerned with form and colour, while to me these were only means to an end, the understanding of and commenting on people.'

Eva Frankfurther was born into a cultured and assimilated Jewish family in Berlin in 1930. Following the rise of National Socialism in Germany, she escaped to London with her family in 1939. Between 1946 and 1951 she studied at St Martin's School of Art, where her fellow students included Leon Kossoff and Frank Auerbach, who recalled Frankfurther's 'contempt for professional tricks or gloss' and her work as 'full of feeling for people'.

Disaffected with the London art scene, after graduating, she moved to Whitechapel in London's East End, the home for several generations of successive waves of migrant communities. For the next six years, she earned her living working the evening shift as a counter-hand at Lyons Corner House and, later, in a sugar refinery, leaving herself free to paint during the day.

Inspired by artists as diverse as Rembrandt, Käthe Kollwitz and Picasso, she took as her subject the ethnically diverse, largely immigrant population among whom she lived and worked. Her studies of the new communities of West Indians, Cypriots and Pakistanis, portrayed both at work and at rest, with empathy and dignity, are her greatest achievement.

Between 1948 and 1958 Frankfurther also travelled extensively in Europe, writing lively and perceptive letters home about the art and people she encountered. In her last year she spent eight months living and working in Israel, returning to London in October 1958. Three months later, suffering from depression, she took her own life at the age of twenty-eight. Despite the brevity of her artistic career, she left behind an important body of work based above all, on compassion for the dignity of ordinary working people of all races and communities.

During her lifetime Frankfurther avoided the art establishment but exhibited regularly in local group shows at the Whitechapel Art Gallery and the Bethnal Green Museum. Her work has also been exhibited posthumously in London, Leicester, Cambridge, Bedford and Berlin and is in collections including Ben Uri Gallery and Museum, Clare College, Cambridge, and a number of private collections both in the UK and abroad.