Research and Cultural Collections: The Schwarz Art Collection

The University of Birmingham’s wide range of cultural collections are all cared for by the Research and Cultural Collections department. Working at RCC I got the opportunity to explore some of the collections and I particularly engaged myself with one of them, namely, the Schwarz Art Collection.

Hans Schwarz (1922-2003) was an artist, illustrator, sculptor and writer of Jewish heritage who came to Birmingham as a teenager in 1939 on the Kindertransport from Nazi-occupied Austria. In Birmingham Schwarz found refuge and a home, working as an apprentice machine minder for the Cadbury family. He would later attend the Birmingham College of Art and establish himself as a freelance illustrator. In Birmingham he also met Lena who would become his wife and life long companion. In 1964, a few years after the couple moved to London, Schwarz gave up his commercial work in order to fully engage himself in his artistic endeavours. Schwarz would work long hours every day, seven days a week, throughout his working life and was as a result an amazingly prolific artist.

Hans Schwarz self portrait 40
Self-portrait by Hans Schwarz, 1940, pen on paper. Research and Cultural Collections, University of Birmingham.

The Schwarz Art Collection, bequethed to the University by the artist’s sons Julian and Stephen Schwarz in 2011, includes  paintings, sculptures and works on paper and provides great insight into Schwarz personal and artistic life. I’ve been working with organising the collection and documenting the artworks for the catalogue. Going through the collection I found everything from self-portraits and family scenes, to drawings on the back of a letter and a birthday card made by Schwarz for Lena. Its been a pleasure working with the collection and after going through and organising more than 400 of Hans Schwarz art works, I do feel like I’ve gotten to know him a little bit!

Me organising the collection.

Schwarz’s made figurative art and was inspired by German Expressionists such as Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele and the British figurative painters John Minton, Robert Coloquhoun and Keith Vaughan who were associated with the Neo-Romantic Movement. Schwarz is most notably known for his portraits and had a great interest in painting people.  Schwarz said:

I like to paint people; I’m interested in them. If I were told I’m only allowed to do one subject from now on I’d say people. The portraits that I do are not just likenesses, the settings and the general feel are important too, so even if the genre of portraits were forgotten, they could still be looked at as paintings.

Portrait of an unidentified man by Hans Schwarz, charcoal on paper. Research and Cultural Collections, University of Birmingham.
hs 4
Schwarz boys sleeping by Hans Schwarz, 1953, crayon, watercolour and ink on paper. Research and Cultural Collections, University of Birmingham.

I’m currently working on an online exhibition of the Schwarz Art Collection, which is going to be published on RCC’s Flickr account in the near future. The online exhibition will discuss Schwarz life and art through a few selected images and provide a taste of some of the artworks in the collection. To view the final result, keep an eye on RCC’s Flickr account!

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