Aldbourne Heritage Centre

Just up Castle Street from the Square, Aldbourne is ‘Whitley Cottage’. It has an unusually large, north facing paned window which gives a clue to a person who lived there in the late 1940s. Jankel Adler was born in 1895, the seventh of ten children, in Lodz, Poland. In 1914 he moved to Germany, studied arts and crafts and later became a teacher at the Dusseldorf Academy of Arts and met the now famous Paul Klee who influenced Jankel’s painting style. Jankel’s first major success came in 1928 at an exhibition in Dusseldorf. In 1932, at the time of increasing Nazi power, he co-published with other left wing artists, an appeal for communism and against National Socialism. As a modern, and Jewish, artist he faced persecution by Hitler’s regime which took power in 1933. Two of his paintings were displayed by the Nazis as examples of ‘degenerate art’. Upon friends’ advice, he escaped to Paris where he met Picasso, another influence on his style of ‘modern art’. In 1937, 25 of his paintings were seized from collections by the Nazis and 4 were displayed again as ‘degenerate art’ at an exhibition in Munich. At the outbreak of war in 1939 he joined the Polish ‘army in exile’ in France but soon had to retreat via Dunkirk to the UK. He was discharged two years later because of ill-health, settled in Kirkcudbright in Scotland and resumed his painting. In 1943 he moved to London where he had a studio. He had a wealthy patron in Jimmy Bomford who lived at ‘Laines’ in Stock Lane, Aldbourne and who had bought several Jankel paintings. In about 1945 Jimmy arranged for Jankel to move from London into ‘Whitley Cottage’ where the existing small barn alongside was converted into a studio for him with the barn doors being replaced with a large north-facing window, much favoured by artists for ‘pure light’. Jenkel’s works featured in several exhibitions in London and Paris in the late 1940s but an exhibition in New York was, allegedly, badly received and that was a sad blow to Jankel. Also he learned that none of his nine siblings in Poland had survived the Holocaust. His application for a British passport had also been rejected, probably because he had described himself as an ‘anarchist’. These events and his indifferent health took their toll and he was described as being in a ‘distressed state of mind’. On 25 April 1949  he suffered a heart attack and died, aged 53. The Marlborough Times reported that ‘he had endeared himself to quite a few who came to know him….and were impressed by his genial disposition……. and gentle character’. He was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Bushey, Herts, but his memory lives on. His paintings can still be found in many UK galleries, including the Tate, and overseas and examples change hands for many thousands of pounds (as much as £200K) and at the time of writing this article (Feb 2014) there is an exhibition of his work showing in London. Locally, the Swindon Museum owns several of his paintings donated by the late Jimmy Bomford. There are many references to Jankel Adler via the internet including images of his work