Hampstead in the 1930s

Hampstead has long been associated with artists, especially from the 19th century onwards The opportunity for some peace and quiet away from the nearby urban sprawl of London, and the beauty of Hampstead Heath, drew many artists to the area.

Line drawing of 2 Willow Road entrance, Hampstead
Black and white line drawing of 2 Willow Road entrance
Line drawing of 2 Willow Road entrance, Hampstead

Hampstead intellectuals

Large numbers of progressive artists, writers and thinkers moved from Chelsea to Hampstead in the 1930s. They were drawn to the relatively low cost of housing. Not surprisingly the number of artists living in the area spiked around the time 2 Willow Road was built by Erno and Ursula Goldfinger. The expression ‘Hampstead intellectual’ characterised left-wing idealist thinkers like the Goldfingers, with their high living standards.

A creative community

One house on Parkhill Road included Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, who became arguably Britain’s best known artists after WWII. In 1934, the Modernist credentials of Hampstead were furthered by the construction of the Isokon Flats in Lawn Road, created by Wells Coates.
In conjunction with the Isobar, a Bauhaus club on the ground floor of the Isokon Flats which opened in 1935, the residents helped to create an atmosphere in Hampstead of wit, intellectual dialogue and prosperity.

Political activism

The intense creative atmosphere lead to increasing division between Surrealists and Abstractionists. However, the Goldfingers assisted in uniting both left-wing groups politically by signing the Surrealists groups’ petition for the government to lift its arms embargo to Republican Spain during the Spanish Civil War, and setting up exhibitions as fundraisers for the Spanish Aid committees.
Others in Hampstead were similarly charitable during the Second World War. Near 2 Willow Road was the Artist’s Refugee Committee, set up by Fred and Diana Ulhman which provided help to artists fleeing from Nazi Europe.

Charity begins at home

The Goldfingers embarked on further charitable endeavours during the war with an exhibition held at 2 Willow Road in 1942, for the ‘Aid to Russia’ Fund of the National Council of Labour. Much of the liberal community in Hampstead were concerned about Russian hardship in the face of Nazi onslaught.
Accumulating further attention from the wealthy elite in Hampstead, the exhibition highlighted work by Moore, Hepworth, Nicholson and Roland Penrose with a total of around 70 works, many of which were up for auction. You can see works that the Goldfingers bought at the auction in 2 Willow Road today.