Ben Uri collection

West Indian Waitresses

Artist information

Name Eva Frankfurther (1930-1959)

Born Berlin, Germany

Died London, England

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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. 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. In her last year she spent eight months living and working in Israel, returning to London in October 1958. Suffering from depression, she took her own life in 1959. 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.

Object Details

Date c.1955

Object type painting

Medium oil on paper

Materials and techniques oil (medium) paper (support)

Unframed 76 x 55 cm

Acquisition presented by the artist’s sister, Beate Planskoy, 2015

Accession number 2015-17

Display status On display in 'Selected Works of Eva Frankfurther' until 18 June 2017

Frankfurther’s composition is so carefully arranged that her two waitresses appear to mirror one another: from the crossover tops of their distinctive Lyons uniforms to their outstretched arms and tilted heads with white peaked headdresses inclining toward one another, implying a close personal as well as professional relationship between them. The rose-coloured background is typical of the ‘feminine’ palette that indicates Frankfurther’s instinctive sympathy for women. The strong verticals of the women’s bodies and solid horizontals of their beam-like arms form a static framework counterbalanced by a series of strong diagonals. Their gestures are stilled, suggesting a rare quiet moment among the noisy, busy reality of restaurant life. Frankfurther lifts the scene from the frenzy of the everyday, suspending it for our contemplation.


Monica Bohm Duchen Eva Frankfurther 1930-1959, Peter Halban (London) 2001

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© Eva Frankfurther estate