Fred Uhlman (1901 - 1985)

Manfred [Fred] Uhlman (1901–1985) was born on 19th January 1901 in Stuttgart, Germany, the eldest child of Ludwig Uhlman (1869–c.1943), a textile merchant, and his wife, Johanna Grombacher (1879–c.1943), both of whom were later to perish at Theresienstadt concentration camp. Uhlman studied law at the Universities of Freiburg, Munich, and Tübingen, graduating with a doctorate in 1923. In 1927 he joined the Social Democrat Party, becoming its official legal representative in 1932. In March 1933, after a warning that his arrest was imminent because of his political affiliations, he fled to Paris. There, unable to work as a lawyer and encouraged by his cousin Paul Elsas, who was a painter, and Paul Westheim, a German refugee art historian, who had promoted unknown talents in the Weimar republic, Uhlman started to paint successfully in a naïve and colourful style. 

In April 1936 he moved to Tossa del Mar, a small fishing village in Spain, where he met his future wife Diana Page Croft. Shortly thereafter the Spanish Civil War broke out and in August he returned to Paris. On 3rd September, with no money and unable to speak English, Uhlman immigrated to Britain. He and Diana were married and they moved to 47 Downshire Hill in Hampstead in the autumn of 1938. The Uhlman’s home became a haven for refugee artists, among them John Heartfield, pioneer of photomontage, who lived there for five years.  In December 1938 Fred and Diana helped to found the Artists’ Refugee Committee and in 1939 Uhlman became the Free German League of Culture’s first Chairman. In June 1940, nine months after the outbreak of the Second World War, Uhlman, along with thousands of other ‘enemy aliens’ was interned by the British government at Hutchinson Camp on the Isle of Man. He was released six months later and reunited with his wife and daughter, born during his internment.  A selection of the drawings he produced in internment were published by Jonathan Cape, under the title Captivity, in 1946. Uhlman is also the author ofThe Making of an Englishman, 1960 and the enduringly popular novella, Reunion, 1971 (adapted for film by Harold Pinter in 1989 and for stage by Ronan Wilmot in 2010). 

Uhlman had his first solo exhibition at the Galerie Le Niveau in Paris in 1936. In London he exhibited at the Zwemmer Gallery in 1938, and from then on he exhibited regularly in one man shows as well as mixed exhibitions throughout Britain. Uhlman’s work was also included in the Exhibition of Twentieth Century German Art at the New Burlington Galleries in 1938- the first and last major exhibition in which art produced in Nazi occupied countries was displayed (until the end of the war)- under the heading ‘artists now working in this country’.  After 1945 he became internationally known, exhibiting, for example, at the Graphisches Kabinett, Bremen (1954). A large scale exhibition of his work was last held at the Leighton House Museum in London in 1968 and he has since been largely forgotten. 

Uhlman became a collector of African sculpture long before it became fashionable to do so. He was able to amass a large and important collection at a time when it was still possible to do so with modest expenditure. In 1983 he donated his seventy two piece collection to the Hatton Gallery, where a selection is on permanent display.

Uhlman’s work is represented in the UK in the collections of the Arts Council, the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle, and The Imperial War Museum, The British Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London amongst others.

2 Objects by Fred Uhlman