University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies


Barbara Loftus

Barbara Loftus is the daughter of a German-Jewish refugee and an Anglo-Irish Communist. She grew up in London and studied art in the 1960s. Since 1970 she has exhibited widely and has taught at a number of art colleges in London and the South of England.  In 1994 she had a conversation with her mother and for the first time was told about her mother’s experience with the Nazi’s in her native Berlin after Kristallnacht. It was based on this conversation that she began work on the group of paintings A Confiscation of Porcelain. Her mother’s experiences continue to be a source for her artwork, both in painting and Artists Books.   

Artist's Statement

My mother came to England in 1939 as a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany. She tried to obtain visas for her family to escape. However, she was too late: the war started, her family was trapped in Germany and eventually transported to Auschwitz where they perished-my mother was her family's sole survivor. I was born in England after the war, and grew up with little knowledge of my mother's past and German identity; there were no relatives, only a sense of a void that was too painful to be discussed. But in old age, my mother has begun to talk more easily about her past. She has described events, both happy and sad, with a vividness that has made me want to reconstruct them in my image-making.

I have been working on a sequence of paintings and drawings which tell the story of a day in 1938, shortly after Kristallnacht, when members of the SA came to my mother's Berlin home to confiscate the family collection of Dresden and Meisen porcelain. Collectively entitled, A Confiscation of Porcelain, my sequence of images takes the form of a series of paintings, a short film and limited edition handmade book.

For the past ten years one of the chief preoccupations of my work as a figurative painter has been the interaction between images in narrative sequence. My images are involved with the texture of reality: they seek to define or entrap a finite piece of space. Once enclosed, the space becomes a setting for incident. By entrapping space so deliberately I feel that I am also entrapping time. The enclosed time has paradoxical qualities: it is frozen and flowing-actual yet Platonic. It belongs to the existential moment, never-to-be-repeated; yet, by being trapped and therefore still, it has affinities with both past and future. I use my enclosed spaces as a kind of theater of incident. These incidents are often autobiographical fragments.

My work progresses through confronting the realness of things. By setting down the essential lineaments of concrete things, knowing their edges, voids and volumes, I hope I can come to know some of the invisible aspects of reality and experience. In my work as a painter I have employed traditional methods-drawing, preparatory studies, oil paint on canvas. Although I am deeply involved with and committed to the practice of painting, I have always felt a strong affinity with the narrative language of film. This has led me to experiment with paintings about sequence, in an attempt to introduce the element of time into my work; and I have recently begun to explore the possibilities of juxtaposition between film and painted images. I base much of my figurative imagery on performed reenactments of events with live models. I have also tape-recorded my mother's recollections of her youth.

- Barbara Loftus

Artworks: Absence/Presence

A Confiscation of Porcelain, was shown as an artist's film with music,  based on Loftus' paintings and memory of her family's loss of rights in Nazi Germany after Kristallnacht, November 1938. Paintings are arranged in order. All painted during 1994-1996.

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Page updated 2013.