Ben Uri collection

Internment in Douglas

Artist information

Name Ernst Eisenmayer (1920-2018)

Born Vienna, Austria

Died Vienna, Austria

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Eisenmayer, a 19-year-old Jewish refugee fleeing Nazi persecution, reached England in September 1939, after being released from Dachau concentration camp, where he had been imprisoned for repeated attempts to escape from Nazi-controlled Austria. Like many so-called ‘enemy aliens’, he was then interned on the Isle of Man. After release Eisenmayer moved to London, establishing his reputation as a painter, then from the mid–1960s, as a sculptor, living in Italy for a period from 1976. In 1962 Ben Uri held a solo Eisenmayer exhibition at Berners Street. Eisenmayer was a member of the Ben Uri Art Committee in 1972. Eisenmayer's work has recently undergone a critical reassessment. His painting Strip Poker closed Ben Uri’s 2010 exhibition 'Forced Journeys', which toured to Douglas and Birkenhead to mark the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the Manx internment camps, followed by a solo exhibition 'Art Beyond Exile', curated by Prof. Fran Lloyd in 2012. Eisenmayer returned to Vienna in his later years, where he died aged 98, in March 2018.

Object Details

Date 1940

Object type drawing

Medium watercolour, graphite and pen and ink on paper and board

Materials and techniques ink | pen (medium) board | paper (support)

Unframed 30.3 x 22.8 cm

Signed signed and dated, lower right: E Dec 40

Acquisition purchased and presented by David and Eva Wertheim, 2013

Accession number 2013-06

Display status not on display

After Dachau, Eisenmeyer recalled that captivity in British hands was ‘at times, a bit of a lark’, with trips to the cinema, football matches, a choir and a camp ‘university’ offering art classes. For artists, continuing professional practice was certainly possible. Admirably resourceful, they dug up clay for sculpture, ground brick dust with linseed oil or olive oil from sardine cans to make paint, saved brown parcel paper and toilet paper for drawing, and pulled up lino for linocuts which were run through a mangle. Sitters were readily available amongst fellow internees; the most notable portraitist was Dadaist, Kurt Schwitters, whose realist paintings are highlights of internment art, contrasting with his Merz sculptures, assembled from camp junk, porridge, lino and paint. Despite Eisenmayer’s affirmation: ‘I don’t go along with the presentation by some artists of the clichéd barbed wire […] We were bloody lucky on the Isle of Man, unlike the millions in German concentration camps’. The reverse of this drawing, accompanied by 29 internees’ signatures, commemorating camp friendships, clearly depicts the wire being triumphantly torn apart by a youth, beneath which appear the words ‘Jungend Siegende Jungend’ (‘Youth Victorious Youth’). On this side is a topographical view of Douglas camp, a row of seaside boarding houses, guarded and enclosed by wire, with the town’s distinctive architecture clearly visible beyond.

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© Ernst Eisenmayer