Vienna, Austria born 1920
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on composition board
Yosl Bergner served in the Army Labour Company from 1941 to 46 and was stationed at Toocumwal, New South Wales, the Australian-American base that was to be the final command post if Australia was invaded and overrun. Yet, it was not the war in Australia or the Pacific that was the subject of his paintings during those years. Bergner’s mind was filled with stories and images of the plight of Jews in Europe.
In 1934, his father travelled to Australia, searching for a new country for the Jews, free of anti-semitism and fascism; Yosl followed in 1937. In Melbourne, he became close friends with artists James Wigley, Noel Counihan, Albert Tucker, Vic O’Connor and Arthur Boyd with whom he exhibited. Pumpkins is one of the many paintings Bergner produced during these years that depict life in the Jewish ghettos of Europe. Against a backdrop of tenement houses an impoverished family drags a primitive cart filled with pumpkins to sell at a local market. It appears that the pumpkins are all that lie between them and starvation.
Bergner’s quest for a home for the Jewish people was paralleled by his interest in the plight of Aboriginal Australians. In 1948, Bergner left Australia and settled in Israel.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002