One of the leading exponents of modernist architecture in Britain following the Second World War, Eugene Rosenberg (1907 - 1992) was one of the rare and pioneering architects to commission the very best contemporary artists of the period such as Henry Moore, William Scott, F.E. McWilliam, Naum Gabo and Paul Feiler to create site specific artworks for his firm’s architectural designs. Unlike many architects who felt that works of art were a distraction from the building itself, Rosenberg believed fundamentally that art was part of the enjoyment of everyday life and that all buildings - schools, hospitals, airports and community centres - provided perfect spaces in which to house art and sculpture.
Born in Topolcany, Czechoslovakia, Rosenberg studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague and after graduating, worked with Le Corbusier in Paris. He set up his own practice in Prague in 1934 but left Czechoslovakia for Britain in 1939, encouraged by his friendship with Maxwell Fry and F.R. S. Yorke. Following the war, he established the firm Yorke, Rosenberg and Mardall with F.R.S. Yorke and C.S. Mardall and they were responsible for a succession of the most innovative architectural projects in Post-war Britain such as Gatwick Airport, the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford and the Manchester Magistrates Court.
“I am committed to the belief that the artist has an important contribution to make to architecture. The bond between contemporary art and architecture is not easy to define, but I believe they are complementary - that architecture is enriched by art and that art has something to gain from its architectural setting.”
Eugene Rosenberg, Preface to Architect’s Choice, Art in Architecture in Great Britain since 1945, Thames and Hudson, London, 1992, p.6.
Stevenage, Hertfordshire, Yorke Rosenberg Mardall
Rosenberg’s conviction that art was an integral part of daily experience is clearly evident in many of the firm’s designs. For example, the Barclay Secondary School in Stevenage, the first purpose built secondary school in Post–War Britian, resulted in the production of Henry Moore’s first large-scale commission in bronze, a family group to be placed in front of the school which was installed in 1950 (fig.1) whilst inside, Kenneth Rowntree was commissioned to create a large-scale mural. The success of the artworks most certainly inspired other educational authorities to think about commissioning artists in a similar vein.
In terms of hospital design, the ambitious combination of art and architecture in Rosenberg’s plans for the Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry (1957) were without parallel at the time - he asked his friend, the sculptor F.E. McWilliam to create a large-scale sculpture to sit outside the main building (please see lot 101) whilst William Scott was asked to conceive a 45ft mural for the interior. Rosenberg’s belief and trust in the artist’s own vision was highly significant - he was quite willing to give Scott the commission despite the fact that Scott had never worked on such a large-scale before. Moreover, Eric Jones, Secretary of the Northern Ireland Hospitals Authority, had been keen for all the artworks to have clear historical references to the area but Rosenberg managed to intervene and allow Scott to follow his own path of abstraction. Furthermore, for the hospital’s hydrotherapy pool, he commissioned Paul Feiler to design a dynamic abstract tiled mural which enlivened the pool floor and walls to dramatic effect (fig 2).
Rosenberg spent many years following his retirement working on images for a book that he hoped would continue to inspire alliances between artists and architects and in 1992, Architect’s Choice, Art in Architecture in Great Britain since 1945 was published by Thames and Hudson. Richard Cork contributed the main essay for the book entitled ‘Towards a New Alliance’ and will be giving a gallery tour of the collection on Sunday 16th November at 2pm.