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Archibald Ziegler, born in East London in 1903, was an artist who experienced a varied and prolific career, but who was deeply touched by personal tragedy. A new exhibition at Burgh House & Hampstead Museum, 'Archibald Ziegler: A Working Artist', celebrates this underrepresented artist, the development of his career and his life and work in Hampstead. Through loans from his family, private collections, and objects from the Ben Uri Collection, with whom he was very involved, the exhibition seeks to revive interest in Ziegler, and celebrate his art.

Safed

Safed

Archibald Ziegler (1903–1971)

Ziegler’s life story is one of perseverance in the face of great adversity. Born to Jewish immigrant parents from Lithuania, he was motherless at six and orphaned at fourteen. Working from an early age to support himself, he always sketched, whether at sea as a cook’s assistant, or on land as a saw-maker. The painting Safed represents Ziegler’s extensive travels, his bold colour palette conveying a quotidian scene in this Israeli town with trademark vivacity.

Ziegler’s artistic skill earned him his senior scholarship to the Royal College of Art in 1927. On display in the Burgh House exhibition is a collection of newspaper cuttings of drawings of workshops, workers and docks drawn by Ziegler, and published in The Manchester Guardian and The Sunday Worker around this time, between 1926 and 1927. It is probably no coincidence that Ziegler, who was a lifelong socialist, was commissioned to record the conditions for workers from various industries around the same time as the General Strike of 1926, which had a huge impact on many working-class people’s lives. His painting An Allegory of Social Strife, on loan from a private collection, visually summarises these studies, and Paul Liss’ 2011 catalogue of the work of Archibald Ziegler suggests that the painting 'represents the sacrifice of the working man as a victim of the ruling classes.' A group of men on the left of the painting represents workers’ leaders, and on the right are the Capitalists and Socialists. Attacked and fleeing workers in the background are painted in grey, blending into the buildings, suggestive of the normalcy and prevalence of their treatment. The coloured foreground stands out as a bold statement in support of the working man.

Ziegler’s art was described by John Jacobson in the exhibition’s catalogue as ‘unfashionable’ in its deliberate continuity of experiment, but this in a way summarises Ziegler’s career – steadfast and unwavering

Ziegler’s involvement with Toynbee Hall, which was founded to provide education to the poor in London’s East End, married with his socialist politics. Opened in 1884 by Samuel and Henrietta Barnett (who founded Whitechapel Art Gallery and who were also instrumental in creating Hampstead Garden Suburb in 1906) the Hall is still a charity that provides accessible education. Ziegler taught art history at the Workers Education Association (created by Toynbee Hall in 1903), and was commissioned to paint a series of murals there in the early 1930s. Composed of nine panels depicting advancements in the arts and sciences, the murals are evident of Ziegler’s commitment to education. They were painted in the Lecture Hall over a period of ten months for house-painter’s wages, with work being conducted only while the hall was not in use. The frieze, which was unveiled in December 1932, was Ziegler’s first large commission and received critical acclaim, in part because it was believed the work would inspire other artists living in poverty. The murals were rediscovered in 2016, and fundraising to support their conservation is being investigated.

Professor Norman Bentwich

Professor Norman Bentwich

Archibald Ziegler (1903–1971)

Ziegler moved to Hampstead in the 1930s, and his artistic focus shifted to landscapes, townscapes and sculpture. The exhibition at Burgh House includes two busts of young girls, and their quality attests to his flexibility as an artist, and his extraordinary ability to capture a likeness in paint as well as clay (see Professor Norman Bentwich as an example of this). His large landscapes have a distinctly sculptural quality, and examples in the Burgh House exhibition see bold impasto creating a powerful impression of Hampstead Heath.

Trees on Hampstead Heath

Trees on Hampstead Heath

Archibald Ziegler (1903–1971)

Tragically Ziegler’s wife, whom he had married in 1939, died in 1957, closely followed by his son in 1961. Ziegler could still be seen painting around Hampstead in the years that followed, and was the subject of Kenwood House’s first solo exhibition of a living artist’s work in 1971, 'A Hampstead Heath Centenary Exhibition', just before he died. Ziegler’s art was described by John Jacobson in the exhibition’s catalogue as ‘unfashionable’ in its deliberate continuity of experiment, but this in a way summarises Ziegler’s career – steadfast and unwavering. The artist Frank Auerbach, who knew Ziegler, reiterated this in his own tribute: 'I remained in touch with him for quite some time (after Ziegler arranged for Auerbach’s enrolment at St Martin’s College), and was impressed by the fact that his work became ever bolder and more personal as he aged.'

Rebecca Lodge, curator

The exhibition of Archibald Ziegler’s work, 'Archibald Ziegler: A Working Artist', curated by Karen Ziegler-Smith and Rebecca Lodge, can be seen at Burgh House & Hampstead Museum from Wednesday to Friday and Sunday, 12–5pm, until Sunday 28th October 2018.