Kormis, Fred: personal papers and photographs, 1913-1987

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The papers in this collection consist chiefly of photographs of the work of the sculptor and medallion maker, Fred Kormis, 1913-1987. In addition there is some correspondence mostly relating to his work, including letters of thanks from Lord Mountbatten, Menachem Begin and members of the British War Cabinet during the Second World War, for whom Kormis sculpted medallions.

Administrative / Biographical History

Fred Kormis was born in 1897 in Frankfurt and apprenticed in a large workshop specialising in the production of decorative sculpture and mouldings at the age of 14. In 1914 he won a scholarship to the Frankfurt Art School which came to a premature end with the outbreak of the First World War. He was conscripted into the Austrian army (his father was Austrian), sent to the Eastern Front, wounded and captured. After a year in European Russia, Kormis found himself in Siberia, north of Vladivostock, where he spent 4 years until he escaped.

Back in Frankfurt he earned a living as a portrait sculptor until, on 1 April 1933, Hitler came to power. Kormis who had been a socialist since the age of 14 and whose sister-in-law, Tony Sender, had been a deputy in the Reichstag, could see only too clearly what was to come. On 7 April he moved to Holland and then in 1934 to London.

There, he and his wife started a new life. Kormis exhibited at the Beaux-Arts Gallery, continued the medallic work, exemplified in his lovely portrait of the sculptor Moissy Kogan and was established in a studio in Sheriff Road when war broke out once more. In 1940 the studio was bombed and he lost all his large scale work. During the war Kormis spent a period working in the Potteries, designing china for export under the lend-lease scheme. In 1941 Philip Guedalla, seeking a cover for his biography, commissioned him to do one of the earliest medallic portraits of Churchill. This, exceptionally for Kormis, was not done entirely from life. Churchill had to cancel his sitting in favour of a meeting with Roosevelt in the Mid-Atlantic and publishers' deadlines left no time for an alternative appointment.

Kormis' medals of Churchill and Herbert Morrison (1941), served as a prelude to his series of portraits of members of the War Cabinet (Eden, Cripps, Bevin and Sinclair) in 1942 and his series of distinguished foreigners in London in 1943 and 1944 (Benes, Haakon VII, Sikorski, Perlot...)

The end of the war saw Kormis settled in the studio to the north of St John's Wood. He produced a steady output of work, culminating in his great 'Prisoner of War Memorial' in Gladstone Park, Willesden, the erection of which, in 1970, represented the conclusion of a fifty year journey towards the final expression of his experiences in the period, 1915-1920. Among his other public commissions have been 'The Shied Bearer' in the Corn Exchange, Stratford upon Avon; 'Angels Wings', Pound Lane, Willesden; 'The Ever-Lamenting harp', Kiryat Gat, Israel (1978).

Medals have, however, continued to be a constant part of Kormis' work; from his post-war portraits of Mountbatten (1947), Alexander Fleming (1947), and Laurence Olivier (1949), to his more recent tributes to Golda Meir (1973), Charlie Chaplin (1975), Michael Tippett (1977), Henry Moore (1978) and JB Priestley (1978), many of which have been shown at his exhibitions at the Fieldbourne Gallery in London. Kormis died in 1986.

Arrangement

The original arrangement has not been altered. The personal papers and correspondence have been listed first, followed by the photographs of Fred Kormis' work, which form the bulk of the collection. Each item in the list consists of 1 folder unless otherwise stated.

Conditions Governing Access

Open

Acquisition Information

Kormis family

Other Finding Aids

Description exists to this archive on the Wiener Library's online catalogue www.wienerlibrary.co.uk.

Archivist's Note

Entry compiled by Howard Falksohn.

Conditions Governing Use

Copies can be made for personal use. Permission must be sought for publication.

Geographical Names