Edith Caspary’s exposure to art began as a child in Berlin; her extended family included writers and sculptors, who enjoyed the lively cultural milieu of the Weimar Republic in the interwar period. Between 1929 and 1931, London attended the University of Berlin, took classes at Berlin’s Federation of Women Artists, and was introduced to the work of Henri Matisse. Matisse’s impact on her developing aesthetic was “enormous,” as London recounted towards the end of her career: “This is what I have learned from Matisse: that color and form can be created independently of the object.”
Edith married a noted theoretical physicist, Fritz London, in 1929 and together they spent a year in Rome. With the ascendancy of Nazism, the Londons, who were Jewish, fled Germany in 1933 and moved to Oxford, England, followed by nearly three years in Paris, 1936–1939. As Hitler’s religious and intellectual persecution escalated, Fritz became one of many refugee scientists who immigrated to the United States, departing in 1939 ahead of his wife and newborn son who followed soon after. The young family settled in Durham, North Carolina, where, for many years, Edith London attended to responsibilities at home and had limited time for artistic pursuits; the instinct, however, “was in me constantly” she recalled. A year after her husband’s death at the age of fifty-four, she became the slide librarian for the art history department at Duke, a position she held from 1955 until 1969.
Edith London first embraced Cubism during her years in Paris when she was a student of André Lhote, an influential practitioner who also taught Josephine Couper, Margaret Law, and Blanche Lazzell. Painted in 1953, well after London’s time in Paris, Marine Still Life demonstrates Cubism’s main tenets: a flattened, non-perspectival handling of space, overlapping angular shapes, and a penchant for abstracting objects. The composition is further defined by heavy black lines and enlivened by textures ranging from unprimed canvas to restrained impasto. She began working with paper collage around 1960, an extension of her interest in Cubism. These largely abstract works made from handmade and Japanese paper, sandpaper, and wrapping paper, complement her earlier output, which consisted primarily of cubistic seascapes. Interlocking planes, often transparent, and compressed space characterize her oeuvre, as seen in Tension and Harmony.
London achieved local and statewide recognition, including the North Carolina Award in Fine Arts. The North Carolina Museum of Art mounted an exhibition of her collages in 1988, followed by a retrospective organized by the Durham Art Guild four years later. London’s passion for her chosen profession never waned: “My artistic work allows me to follow one of the most lofty pursuits in the field of human endeavor. Through it I am privileged to venture carefully into a most noble preserve of the human mind in which my spiritual being is purged and purified and in which each effort made is rewarded with profound enrichment.”