Martin Bloch

Martin Bloch

1883 - 1954

Born 1883 in Neisse, Silesia ; Died 1954 in London, England

Painter of landscapes, figures and still-life subjects.

Martin Bloch studied architecture in Berlin in 1902 before going on to study the History of Art, Aesthetics, and Psychology in Munich in 1905. Bloch returned to Berlin in 1907 to study Classicism and the Baroque under the influential art historian Heinrich Wölfflin. As a painter, Bloch is mostly self-taught, emphasising the need for craftsmanship and traditional composition. He joined the Berlin Sezession in 1909 and had his first one-man exhibition in 1911 at Paul Cassirer Gallery, Berlin (a second one-man show occurred in 1913). In 1912 he went to Paris, working in Montparnasse and became heavily influenced by the work of Henri Matisse (1869-1954) and the Fauves. During the First World War (1914-18) Bloch found himself stranded in Spain, where he further developed his distinct treatment of colour combined with highly energetic and expressive brushwork. Back in Berlin, in 1923 he founded the Bloch–Kerschbaumer school of painting with Anton Kerschbaumer. During the 1920s and early 1930s, each summer pupils were taken to Italy and encouraged to further explore Fauvist and Expressionist treatment of colour and form; styles that characterise much of Bloch's own painting.

With the rise of Nazism in Germany, Bloch felt threatened as a painter. In 1933 he was declared a 'degenerate artist' by the Nazi state and, joined by his family, he emigrated to Britain, via Denmark. On his arrival in London in 1934, Bloch established a School of Contemporary Painting which he ran until the outbreak of war in 1939, at which point Bloch was interned at Huyton, Lancashire, and at Sefton on the Isle of Man. After his release in 1941, Bloch returned to London and was commissioned by the Ministry of Information to document the war damage to London's streets. Bloch became a British citizen in 1947. Unlike in his native Germany, in Britain Bloch found it difficult to establish himself as a modern artist of repute. Although he had one-man shows in Cambridge in 1939 and at Alex Reid & Lefèvre Gallery, London in 1939, Bloch never regained the reputation of his youth. In his final decades, Bloch was a regular visitor to Wales and produced a number of works depicting welsh miners and many dramatic landscapes. From 1949 until his death Bloch taught painting at Camberwell School of Arts and contributed a series of works to the Festival of Britain in 1951.

Bloch received retrospective exhibitions at the Arts Council in 1957 and at the South London Art Gallery in 1984. He is represented by a number of public collections including Tate, Government Art Collection, Leeds Museums and Galleries, Arts Council Collection, Leicester Arts and Museums Service, Amgueddfa Cymru / National Museum Wales, University of St Andrews, Trinity Hall Cambridge, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, and Ben Uri Gallery (Jewish Art).

(Benjamin Angwin – September 2014)