A registered charity and museum, Ben Uri is founded on a world class collection of Jewish and European art. It is the only specialist museum of Jewish art in Europe, with a collection that reflects the work and lives of émigré British and European artists. Interpreting this collection within the wider context of historical and contemporary art, politics and society, Ben Uri is a museum and gallery with a social conscience. Through innovative and varied programming, on-line resources and exhibitions, Ben Uri uses its collection and archive to engage a diverse audience in exploring issues of art, identity and migration.
Ben Uri was founded on the 1 July 1915 by the Russian émigré artist Lazar Berson in London's East End. It was originally called ‘The Jewish National Decorative Art Association (London) – ‘Ben Ouri’ – and was established to support and nurture art and creativity. The name Ben Uri echoes that of legendary biblical craftsman Bezalel Ben Uri, the creator of the tabernacle in the Temple of Jerusalem. During the 1920s, Ben Uri moved to a central London location, first near the British Museum in Bloomsbury, later moving to the West End and finally, in the 1950s, to London's Soho, where it ran exhibitions and cultural activities until 1996. In 2002 Ben Uri moved to a temporary space in St John's Wood, where it continues to create ground-breaking exhibitions, though is actively looking for a permanent gallery in which to house its extensive collection and complete its planned evolution into the Museum of Art, Identity & Migration.
The Ben Uri collection is made up of over 1300 works, spanning 120 years, by over 380 artists, mainly of Jewish descent: 67% émigrés, 27% women and 33% contemporary. The collection covers all subjects and mediums, primarily by artists of Jewish origin, who were either born, settled in, or had a distinct social or artistic connection to Britain. Together these works create a unique visual survey of Jewish artistic and social life during the 19th century through to the present day. The collection includes master works by Frank Auerbach, David Bomberg, Marc Chagall, Jacob Epstein, Mark Gertler, Samuel Hirszenberg, R B Kitaj, Leon Kossoff, Simeon Solomon, Chaim Soutine, Alfred Wolmark – and many more.