Alice Berger-Hammerschlag (1917-69)

Abstract (c1960)

90cm x 120cm

Private collection

Born into a wealthy Jewish family, Alice Berger studied at the Academy of Arts in Vienna before fleeing the city in 1938 to escape Nazi persecution. Arriving in Northern Ireland later that year with a special government permit, she began work as a designer for a commercial publisher but still found time to paint. Within a few years, her paintings were being exhibited by the Ulster Academy of Arts, later the Royal Ulster Academy. In 1947 she married Heinz Hammerschlag, a businessman and musician who, like Berger, had fled Nazi persecution. In 1960, she gave up commercial design to concentrate on painting, although she continued to work as a set-designer, most notably at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast. A founding member of the Ulster Society of Women Artists, her work appeared in several group exhibitions as well as one-woman shows in Belfast, Dublin, London and further afield. In 1970, the year after her death, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland gave a retrospective exhibition of her work.

Although her early work owed something to Cubism, from the 1960s her painting had become almost completely abstract, and it is with this genre that Berger Hammerschlag is so closely associated. Influenced by the post-war abstract expressionism coming out of America, her swirling patterns and seemingly spontaneous brush strokes give a feeling of optimism and excitement to her work. This untitled piece is typical of her work, which gave such importance to colour as a means of expression, here flashes of orange enliven the darkness of the grey and black.