Painter and graphic artist Jankel Adler was born into a large orthodox Jewish family in 1895 in Tuszyn, near Łódź, Congress Kingdom of Poland, then client state of the Russian Empire (now Poland). He studied engraving in Belgrade in 1912, then art in Barmen and Düsseldorf until 1914. During the First World War he was conscripted into the Russian army but returned to Poland in 1918, becoming a founder-member of Young Yiddish, a Łódź-based group of painters and writers dedicated to the expression of their Jewish identity, the first of the many avant-garde artistic groups with which he would be associated. In 1920 he moved to Germany, meeting Marc Chagall in Berlin, then returned briefly to Barmen, before settling two years later in Düsseldorf, where he joined the Young Rhineland circle, became friendly with Otto Dix and helped found the International Exhibition of revolutionary artists in Berlin. In 1925 Adler's Planetarium frescos were well received and he exhibited widely. Six years later, in 1931, at the Düsseldorf Academy, he formed an important friendship with Paul Klee, who had a profound influence on his style. In 1933, however, Adler was forced to flee Nazi Germany for France at the height of his success, after his art was declared 'degenerate'. In 1934 his work was included in the Exhibition of German-Jewish Artists' Work Painting - Sculpture - Architecture , mounted by German refugee art dealer, Carl Braunschweig at the Parsons Gallery, Oxford Street (5-15 June 1934), organised in response to such Nazi discrimination. Nonetheless, Adler was also included in the infamous Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibition, mounted by the Nazis in Munich in 1937. In the same year, he worked with the printmaker Stanley William Hayter at the experimental workshop Atelier 17 in Paris, also meeting Picasso, who became the second major influence upon his style.


In 1939, upon the outbreak of the Second World War, Adler joined the Polish Army and was evacuated to Scotland in 1940, where, after a brief internment, he was demobilized in 1941, owing to poor health. In Glasgow he and fellow Polish Jewish émigré Josef Herman were reunited and became two of the most influential members of the Glasgow New Art club, founded by J. D. Fergusson (they have also been credited with inspiring its short-lived offshoot, The Centre, at 7, Scott Street). The Estonian-born Jewish sculptor Benno Schotz organised a private exhibition of Adler's work in his own studio in 1941 and Adler also exhibited 24 works at Annans' Gallery in June the same year (with a catalogue introduction by Fergusson). In October 1942 Adler contributed a short article 'Memories of Paul Klee' to Cyril Connolly's Horizon and in December of the same year, Schotz and Herman organised an exhibition of Jewish Art at the Jewish Institute, South Portland Street, in the Gorbals, Glasgow. This included work by Adler, alongside both British Jewish artists including David Bomberg and continental European Jewish artists, many associated with the Ecole de Paris, including Chagall, Modigliani and Soutine, as well as by the curators themselves.


In 1942 Adler also stayed briefly in the artists' colony in Kirkcudbright in South West Scotland, in order to prepare for his upcoming solo exhibition at the Redfern Gallery in Cork Street, London (June-July 1943), organised by German émigrée art dealer Erica Brausen and with a catalogue introduction by the influential art historian and critic Herbert Read. After moving to London, Adler shared a house with 'the two Roberts', the painters Colquhoun and MacBryde, whose style he greatly influenced, and their wider circle. In 1944 he participated in a group show in German émigré Jack Bilbo's Modern Art Gallery and also had two solo exhibitions at Gimpel Fils, Studies in Tempera for Kafka's Works by Jankel Adler with Watercolours and Drawings , in spring 1947, followed by a second show in 1948. In the same year, An Artist Seen from One of Many Possible Angles, with illustrations by Adler, was the first publication from Polish-born Francziska and Stefan Themerson's avant-garde Gabberbochus Press. In 1945 the collector James (Jimmy) Bomford lent Adler Whitley Cottage, situated on his farm at Aldbourne, near Malborough, in Wiltshire, where the artist spent his final years. It was there - a day after hearing of the rejection of his application for naturalisation, probably because of his contacts within anarchist groups - that Adler died, on 25 April 1949. Extensive materials relating to his time in Britain are held in the archives of the National Galleries of Scotland, as well as the Tate Archive. His work is held in UK collections including Aberdeen Art Gallery, Glasgow Museums Resource Centre, Pallant House Gallery, Swindon Museum and Art Gallery and Tate Britain, as well as in international collections in Australia, Germany, Israel and the USA and was most recently part of a major survey exhibition in Wuppertal (2018), and a survey of his British years at Ben Uri Gallery (2019).