On 15 September 2018, the Nemon Studio Museum and Archive hosted the Oxford launch of Aurelia Young’s biography Finding Nemon, co-written with author and journalist Julian Hale, and published by Peter Owen. Twelve years in the researching and writing, the beautifully illustrated book is the fruit of Aurelia’s quest to reconstruct the story of her father Oscar Nemon’s life as he travelled from Osijek, then in Yugoslavia, to Vienna in 1924, and Brussels in 1925, before finally arriving in England from 1936. Pleasant Land, where the launch was celebrated, had been the sculptor’s home from 1948 until 1985.
Nemon was still working on numerous projects, including a bust of Princess Diana, at the time of his death from a heart attack in the spring of 1985. There had been no time to put his archive in order, or fill in family members on the complex journeyings which had made up his life.
Aurelia’s investigations on the trail of her wandering father took her to what is now Croatia, where Nemon grew up, and lived until he was eighteen, Belgium, where he came to maturity as a sculptor, America, where he travelled many times, as well as archives within the UK where Nemon’s works and papers are held. She deciphered, and had translated, faded, yellowing letters from clients and bank managers and old friends and new lovers. She tried to identify unknown sitters and track down sculptures and busts of which the family now only has photos.
The story Aurelia Young tells in Finding Nemon is unique to Oscar Nemon. His talents led him to sculpt Freud and Churchill from life, and be granted a studio at St James’s by the Queen for many years, while still living with his family in two ramshackle ex-prisoner of war huts on the beautiful site on Boars Hill until 1970 – though lack of funds to procure anything better. But Finding Nemon also speaks to the wider experience of migration and personal tragedy that was shared by millions during the mid-twentieth century in the aftermath of World War II, particularly those of Jewish heritage who lost the greater parts of their families to the Holocaust. In Nemon’s own case, this included the loss of his mother, brother and grandmother, as well as almost all his extended family, and unquestionably marked his creative work thereafter.
Under warm autumn sunshine, with sculptures and drawings and reliefs on display in the Nemon Archive and Studio Museum, and pianist Emma Holloway playing live, guests were able to celebrate both Oscar Nemon and his daughter Aurelia Young’s very considerable achievements within the peaceful garden of Pleasant Land. Here Aurelia had grown up with her late brother Falcon Stuart, whose photographs illustrate Finding Nemon, and their sister Electra. Now she was returning to bring her father’s memory alive again for every enthusiastic purchaser of her book, which is widely available, and will shortly be on sale through the Nemon Shop section of this website.
Aurelia Young’s article, written about her personal memories of her father for the Jewish Chronicle, is available here.
Live music was provided by Emma Holloway.
Event photographs by Pete Marsh
Text by Alice Hiller