A Spotlight on… Margarete Berger-Hamerschlag

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As we draw to a close of our Tall Tales touring programme, we look back to the beginning and particularly when we met the Tavistock Centre’s archivist and curator, Karma Percy and three very special works hidden within the centre itself.

Upon discussing the potential Tall Tales exhibition as part of the Tavistock’s changing corridor gallery space and potential artist-in-residence (later to become Tall Tales artist Ruth Barker), we discovered just how vast the collection of artwork already residing within this NHS trust building really was.

Karma Percy had been working in collaboration with the Public Catalogue Foundation since 2010, to record and catalogue all the donated paintings within the Tavistock Centre, as part of the Foundation’s ultimate goal to document all publically owned paintings in the United Kingdom.

The Tavistock Centre’s own diverse collection of paintings is now live on the BBC website ‘Your Paintings’. The collection began in 1990 by Caroline Garland, a renowned psychoanalyst and writer who engaged local artists and championed the principle of good art in public buildings.

The Trust’s art collection is particularly unique because it consists entirely of modern and contemporary paintings, the oldest work in the building by Anthony Whishaw (RA) ‘Arcos de la Frontera’, dates back to 1960. There is wide variety of styles and subject matter in our collection but for myself and co-curator Helen, we became particularly drawn towards the work of Margarete Berger-Hamerschalg, who had 3 paintings quietly hiding up on the 3rd floor corridor.

From her earliest years when she scribbled on the prescription pads of her doctor father Berger-Hamerschlag demonstrated a desire and devotion to making art. After studying  at Professor Cizek’s groundbreaking school for children in Vienna and then at the Kunstgewerbeschule (Arts & Crafts School) in Vienna, she embarked on a whirlwind international career as illustrator, portrait painter, landscape artist, as well as fashion design and costume design for the theatre.

She was a free spirit, traversing the world, painting from country to country, experiencing life to the full. In 1934 she and her husband Josef Berger, whom she had married impulsively one lunchtime without telling her respectable family. After various traveling adventures, they finally set up home in England two years later where she continued her successful career.

She started teaching in Youth Clubs in about 1950 to make money, initially due to the post war austerity, which meant her art might be in less demand, but this activity gradually came to dominate her life and it was in this period in which she was able to combine the several facets of her artistic skills. Her educational impulses resulted in the book Journey into a Fog, an account of her years teaching, a very considerable success in its day. It ran to many editions, published in the USA, and even appeared in a paperback version. She was not long to enjoy her success though, as cancer took her life in 1958.

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Her youth club series, and images of girls, in particular, hold a strong gaze with anyone who set’s their eyes upon them. What strikes you the most is the strong attitude and dress, which the subject matters seem to hold within each painting, and was evocative of the teddby boy and youth club era. Amongst a full corridor of other interesting works, these particular youth club works, stood out amongst the other works within the Tavistock collection and the story of Hamershalg’s work and herself felt true to the themes of our Tall Tales tour. We were delighted to be the first external curator’s to loan Margarete’s work from the Tavistock Centre, meaing not only that they left the building for the first time since they were initially gifted to the centre, but that they could then travel alongside 17 other female artist’s work and be viewed by many across the UK.

And just between you and me, I can’t deny a close resemblence between one of Margarete’s painted girls, and our very own Karma Percy, who was so generous in supporting our loan of the work. Perhaps another reason we felt so drawn to the peice.

Although the Tall Tales tour has now come to an end, the works will be returned to their As long term home in the Tavistock Centre for you to see, as well as other examples of her work on display in the Belvedere Gallery in Vienna, the Applied Arts Museum in Vienna and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

Image credits – Header Image: Teddy Boy & Teddy Boy and Girl, install image of Tall Tales at Glasgow Women’s Library
Middle Image: Two Girls at Youth Club, Margarete Berger-Hamershclag, watercolour on paper, photo by Tavistock Centre Art Collection 
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