(Sansom & Co., ISBN 978-1-911408-16-1)
Susan Soyinka’s new book ‘Albert Reuss in Mousehole – The Artist as Refugee’ is an excellent work. Susan has done a fantastic job, not only to research the book, but also to write it so clearly and with resonance. She has given air and light to a most important story, opened a door upon some truly great art and made something which, in the context of the world unfolding around us, is not only of historical and cultural importance, but has something to say about the experiences of so many people swept up in current events.
One of the many fascinating people to feature in the book is John Sturge Stephens, a Cornish Quaker who was Professor of International History at Birmingham University. In 1927 the Third Congress of European Minorities considered a report by Sir Willoughby Dickinson, which called for a thorough League of Nations Inquiry into all aspects of ‘the minority problem.’ In 1929, one year after the first revived Gorsedh, John Sturge Stephens delivered a lecture, which was later published by the Hogarth Press, entitled ‘Danger Zones of Europe – A Study of National Minorities.’ The League of Nations was trying to develop a ‘covenant’ which would assist minorities isolated by lines drawn at the Treaty of Versailles. It is clear from his book that Stephens was involved in the very early post-Versailles debates about how to protect peoples separated by treaty boundaries.
Stephens was later to assist Albert and Rosa Reuss to escape from Vienna as Nazism swept the city, persecuting Jews. The rush into exile, and the quickly adopted mindset of a refugee, affected both Albert’s artistic abilities (he was a painter and sculptor) and his art. In her book, Susan Soyinka describes Stephens as ‘a Cornish Schindler.’
With Stephens’ help, the Reusses ended up in Mousehole, where they lived out their lives. Albert continued to paint and to explore the depth and intensity of his experiences through paintings which are compelling and beautiful. Rosa battled to develop Albert’s reputation and market. He remained almost anonymous in Cornwall, and only slightly known elsewhere, but he painted constantly. In later life, after Rosa’s death, John Halkes, then directing the Newlyn Art Gallery, successfully mounted several shows of Albert’s work.
Susan Soyinka earlier wrote ‘From East End to Land’s End’ about the evacuation of Jewish children to Cornwall during World War Two. It was a carefully researched, well written book which opened a door of understanding about the emotional and spiritual effects of evacuation, the impacts of persecution, and the thoughtful kindnesses which the evacuees found in Cornwall.
During her research the author discovered the story of Albert and Rosa Reuss, and she has returned to it in a book of great interest, again opening doors of insight, exploring the creativity of loneliness, and hopefully launching an effort to bring the works of Albert Reuss to a wider audience at a time when the themes and expressions of his art are all-the-more relevant and acute.