MALVERN, England (JASHP) – Malvern has attracted a good number of people with refugee status over the past hundred years. The most recent in the public eye is an Austrian, Frieda Salvendy. Frieda moved to Malvern soon after the end of WWII and died here, in obscurity, in 1965. A brief notice of her death was published in the local newspaper and details of the probate gave her address at Alexandra Road. Beyond that, it would appear that very few, if any, knew of her existence, or that she had been a prominent European artist.
Frieda was born in Vienna in 1887, the only daughter of a Jewish couple who actively encouraged her artistic talents. She studied art in Vienna from 1902 and some of her earliest works of art date from 1914. Like many of her contemporaries, she avoided the more decorative approach to Art Nouveau and saw painting as a means of spiritual expression. She draws and paints figures and landscapes and is also a printmaker. Like other female artists of her time, she had to work hard in what was still considered a male profession. Her style met with some hostility over the years, but did not prevent her from becoming an associate member from 1928 to 1938 of Hagenbund, a prestigious group of Austrian artists, where she exhibited with others who embraced the new schools of expressionism and new objectivity. Her works have been exhibited in Stockholm, Prague and Vienna, and often in collaboration with the National Organization of Austrian Women in the Visual Arts (VBKO).
Frieda traveled regularly in those years before WWII. Some of her paintings can be dated to a period she spent in Mousehole, Cornwall, in 1934. The fishing harbors seem to have seduced her and she painted several watercolors on fishing themes. Life in Central Europe would soon become more precarious for Jews and so, along with many other Austrians and Czechs who had been at the center of a thriving cultural center, Frieda left for England in 1938. She was now 51 years old and was been at the center of an energetic, stimulating and celebrated artistic movement.
The 1939 registry for Mousehole recorded Frieda living with the Adams family who appeared to be part of a thriving artistic community in the pre-war years. Portraits of the father, Moses Adams, himself an artist, survive and two of his daughters, Anna Grace and Ruth have become close friends with Frieda. Several Mousehole watercolors can be found at the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle dating from this period.
Frieda’s journey between 1939 and her death in 1965 becomes progressively more elusive. There is a suggestion that she may have been interned on the Isle of Man as an “enemy alien”, but if so it could not be for long, since the 1939 Register was compiled in the fall of 1939 and that she was organizing exhibitions of her work. in Bradford in May 1940.
In fact, British newspaper records reveal that throughout the 1940s Frieda actively promoted her works. This suggests that she was able to carry a good number of her paintings with her in 1938, as some of them have continental themes. Exhibitions were held in Newcastle, Middlesbrough and Bradford in 1940, and Leicester and Reading in 1941. The Bradford Exhibition featured a number of Cornish paintings by Frieda, including “St Ives Harbor and Penzance Harbor … expressed in brilliant color and bold outline. ” The following year Manchester provided his place of work and the newspaper article includes a more recent photograph, as well as details of Frieda’s paintings, and hopes to obtain a permit to further paint the Cornish coast. The column goes on to say that Frieda had returned to the mainland to see her sick mother in 1938 and that she was in Prague when Hitler’s forces entered the city. Other exhibitions are reported in 1944, in Newcastle, Shipley and Cheltenham, and the latter shows no less than 50 of his paintings.
A few newspaper references in the late 1940s put her at events at Mousehole, such as a funeral and an art exhibit. However, no evidence of where she lived has surfaced. The Malvern Gazette edition of March 26, 1965 carried the following obituary: âSalvendy (Frida) – March 24, 1965, to Malvern, great painter, great friend. There was no obituary and the probate file reveals that she left her estate to her lawyer and Anna Grace Adams. Her address at Alexandra Road is listed and the fact that she died at Court House Nursing Home, Malvern. Anna Grace Adams was Mousehole’s friend in the 1930s. In the 1939 Register, Anna lived in Malvern Wells, near the Cottage in the Woods hotel. This would provide a reason for Frieda to move to Malvern at a possibly later date. Anna inherited or stayed in the Alexandra Road apartment after Frieda’s death. Anna died in Malvern in 1976, at the age of 87. Local researchers Faith Renger and Cora Weaver of Malvern discovered Frieda’s grave at Malvern Wells cemetery, Green Lane. His tombstone is engraved with an extract from Psalm 42.
In 2003, an Austrian professor called for information on Frieda Salvendy in the columns of the Malvern’s Journal. It is not yet known whether details have been sent to him. Earlier in 2021, another request for information about Frieda was sent to some groups in Malvern, including the museum. As a result, some useful avenues of inquiry have succeeded in filling some of the gaps that have been described here.
The investigation came from Martin Sugarman, archivist at the Military Museum of the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen (AJEX) in London. He has written a number of books celebrating the wartime contributions of lesser-known Jewish men and women, such as firefighters facing the aftermath of Blitz bombings and men serving in the armed forces or as prisoners of war in Japan. . He came across the name Frieda Salvendy and felt that she too should be recognized for her great contribution to 20e century of art, especially in the light of the darkness that followed his flight from Europe. Martin collaborated with an American Jewish philanthropist, Jerry Klinger, (of the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation [JASHP]) on some of his projects and Jerry was keen to support Martin’s latest project by sponsoring a plaque in memory of Frieda.
As a result, a plaque commemorating the life and achievements of Frieda Salvendy was placed on the exterior wall of the care home where she spent her final years.
There has been a renewed interest in Frieda Salvendy and her contribution to the art world. Last year, the Ben Uri research unit in London published Czech routes to Great Britain in which Frieda Salvendy is featured. She exhibited with Ben Uri in 1945 and 1946 and the book explains how âher reputation is currently being reassessedâ. Some of her works were presented to the Jewish Museum in Vienna in 2017 as part of a celebration titled âThe Better Half – Jewish Women Artists Before 1938â.
Frieda’s work appears not only at Ben-Uri, but at the University of Sussex, the Sainsbury Collection in Norwich, the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in New Plymouth (New Zealand) and in Austria.
This article distributed by the American Jewish Society for Historic Preservation (JASHP) was a collaborative effort of Martin Sugarman, Faith Renger, and Cora Weaver.