Painter Dora Holzhandler was born into a Polish-Jewish family in Paris, France in 1928. After the collapse of her father’s business, she was raised by a Catholic farming family in Normandy for five years, before returning to Paris, where her maternal grandfather, a rabbi, fuelled her interest in Jewish traditions. After moving to London with her family in 1934, she was evacuated to Norfolk during the Second World War. Many members of her extended family perished in the Holocaust; she only once depicted this subject in her work in My Grandfather in Auschwitz (1962, Ben Uri Collection). After the war, Holzhandler returned briefly to Paris, before re-settling in London in 1948.
She studied at the Anglo-French Art School in St John’s Wood, London (1948-50), where her naïve style was first recognised and encouraged and she participated in the Royal Society of British Artists (RBA) Young Contemporaries show in 1949, while still a student. She had her first solo exhibition with Helen Lessore at the Beaux Arts Gallery in London in 1954, and also exhibited at galleries including the Portal Gallery, Grosvenor Gallery, and Langton Gallery in London, and with Ben Uri Gallery, where she had a solo exhibition, Outside In or Inside Out: Dora Holzhandler, in 2006 as well as in France and America. She worked predominantly in oil but also used gouache and watercolour, drawing on folk art and children’s illustrations and often incorporating repeated iconography, mythical and religious symbolism, inspired by her dual beliefs in Judaism and Buddhism.
Dora Holzhandler died in London, England on 8 October 2015, aged 87. Her work is in numerous UK collections including the Ben Uri Collection, Brighton and Hove Museums and Galleries, the Jewish Museum London, and the Museum of Modern Art, Glasgow.