Heaven and Earth
Festschrift to Honor Karsten Harries

Vol. 12, No. 1
August 2007


___Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann
  The American Voice.
German Historians of Art and Architecture in Exile in the United States



There is no single voice, no unified history of art history in the United States, but there are many histories. Even if we concentrate on art history in academic institutions, instead of museums or the trade, there is no single story to be told. And this situation applies not only to the topic of this paper, namely art historians from Germany who worked in exile in the United States, but long antedates the period 1933-1945 marked by the Third Reich. German-speaking art historians in the United States expressed themselves in a wide variety of ways. Not every one of their voices spoke clearly, or, to put it more accurately, not everyone was heard. There are scholars who only expressed themselves in part, because they either intentionally or unintentionally did not give voice to the full range of their intellectual interests when they were in the United States. There are also voices which remained unheard, or were heard by only a few people. The history of German art history in exile in America is therefore a history of partially as well as fully heard voices, of heard and unheard expressions. And this situation has had perhaps unexpected consequences for the further development of art history in America.

This short paper will not repeat what can be read in other places. Recent books (by among others Karen Michels and Ulrike Wendeland) on the subject provide an immense amount of facts about the German immigrants. One can thus learn elsewhere about the details of the contacts, students, and impulses that German scholars gave to art history in the United States.

To summarize, it appears as if the aphorism attributed to Walter Cook, the first director of the Institute of Fine Arts of New York University, is justified. Cook compared the immigrants who came to New York with splendid apples that Hitler shook from the German tree and that fell into his lap. It is clearly true that German-speaking art historians contributed to the further development of a variety of scholarly endeavors and to the widening of horizons in various realms of culture in America.

Their contributions are above all evident in the cultivation of a humanistic approach to art history, to the development of an iconology, and to the study of Byzantine art history. In these areas scholars such as Erwin Panofsky, Kurt Weitzmann, Hugo Buchthal, and Ernst Kitzinger can be mentioned as examples. Their accomplishments and influence deserve mention, because recently in both the United States and Germany it has become something of a fashion to doubt or to attack their impact, and to criticize their views, for example Panofsky’s interpretation of the Renaissance.

The appearance of recent books on German art historians in the United States can however be attributed to many factors. In America it belongs to a wave of interest in historiography. In Germany it is part of effort to recuperate part of a splendid past which was lost when art historians, principally but not exclusively Jewish, were forced to leave or were interned or murdered. It is also the case that with the loss of personal connections to the previous generation, as younger art historians come on the scene, there is a need to recall what happened in the past.

It is not the intention here to undervalue the efforts of historians of art history who have dealt with the lives and works of German art historians in the United States – and by this is meant art historians who came to the U.S. from Germany, even if, like Paul Frankl, they were not German-born – but to treat these stories a little differently. The question is to be handled from a somewhat different point of view, to speak with a different American voice, recognizing, too, that this voice is only one of out of many that may be heard on this subject, and that a short paper can offer only a partial account of a larger picture.

First, it can be shown that the role of German-speaking exiles in the arts and even in art history in fact reaches far back beyond the twentieth century, to the period before the American Revolution and the foundation of the United States of America in the eighteenth century. It may perhaps come as somewhat unexpected to learn that the first treatise on art that was written in any part of the western hemisphere was composed in German by someone who may also be regarded as having been an exile.  And this treatise also has to do directly with traditions of Central Europe.

Between the years 1762 and 1770 Johann Valentin Haidt put down his thoughts on art in German in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. They are preserved in a manuscript that remains unpublished in the Moravian Archives there. Haidt (1700-1780) came from a family of goldsmiths that originated in Augsburg, where his grandfather had obtained a certain amount of fame. His father was also prominent enough in this field, as he became royal Prussian goldsmith. Johann Valentin Haidt was himself born in Danzig/Gdańsk. When he was two years old he was taken by his father with his family to Berlin, as the elder Haidt assumed his duties there. Johann Valentin was first trained as a goldsmith, and attended the newly founded Berlin academy of art. Haidt also spent a number of years in Italy. According to his own information, he became quite familiar with the art scene in Rome around the year 1720. In Rome Johann Valentin Haidt joined a group of pietistic Lutherans, and then moved to England. In England he converted to the beliefs of the Mährische Einheit, known as the Jednota Bratska. In the United States this religion is called Moravian. Haidt became a member of the refounded community of the Moravian brotherhood, that Count Zinzendorf reformed from the tradition of the Jednota Bratska, the religion of Jan Comenius. Haidt then went first to the Moravian community in Herrnhag in German, and then to Herrnhut. There he became a painter. Because the Herrenhutter, as the Moravians are called in Germany, were only allowed to live in Saxony under the protection of Count Zinzendorf, and were not officially tolerated for quite a long time, Haidt’s return to England, and his voyage to America, may be regarded as a form of emigration.

In the year 1754 Haidt came to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where he lived until his death in 1780.  He was not only a sort of missionary, but also was named “Gemeinmaler” of the town (or city) of Bethlehem. In this capacity he painted many interesting portraits, Biblical histories, and historical events. There exist approximately 275 paintings from his hand. He also offered instruction in drawing to the youth of Bethlehem. While Haidt was living in Philadelphia in the year 1755, he counted the famous Anglo-American painter Benjamin West among his pupils.

It was probably in connection with his activity as a teacher that Haidt conceived of writing a treatise on art. Haidt’s treatise is a small manuscript, thirty-seven pages long, which exists only in the handwriting of an amanuensis or secretary. In it Haidt attempts to communicate the bases of drawing and painting. His tract is quite typical for his time. It deals with drawing, proportion, perspective, and other fundamentals. For present purposes it is however of interest because Haidt also devotes a few pages to the history of art among the various aspects of art with which he deals. Although his pages on the subject are few in number, this effort is also completely in keeping with the history of art history before Winckelmann. In this regard one only needs to compare Haidt’s work with the mammoth volumes of Joachim von Sandrart. Although Sandrart’s volumes are immense, his section on art history is also only a part of the whole work, which includes lives of artists and remarks on art history within its three giant folios. Haidt's remarks on art history are also quite ordinary in regard to their content, if they be compared with other works of their time. He talks about the failure of Roman painting to survive from antiquity, praises the painters of the Italian Renaissance, and regards their paintings as exemplary.

If one takes into account what the expectations were of his time, and the horizon of understanding that existed before Winckelmann, whose tracts he probably could not have known, Haidt may therefore also be considered to be an art historian. Thus he may be regarded as the first German art historian, also as the first German art historian in exile, who worked in the United States. The fate of Haidt’s treatise is significant for the purposes of this paper as well, because he offers us a good example of a German voice which remained unheard. At any rate his tract remained unknown, and has probably been read by only a very few people to this date. It remained unpublished, and Haidt seems to have no immediate followers or known students who worked as artists in the United States. Possibly Haidt’s reputation did have a certain effect on later times, because two generations after his death the community of Bethlehem called Gustav Grünewald from Germany to come to Pennsylvania to become “Gemeinmaler”. Grünewald was a pupil of Caspar David Friedrich, and in America he painted landscapes of the Lehigh river valley which look like Friedrich’s works, but have signs of new industrial developments in them.

In any case, from the early nineteenth century on German scholarship also exercised an enormous influence on American education and scholarship. Between the years 1820 and 1920 almost 9000 American students went to Germany in order to study in German universities. The seminar system and the ideal of higher education that was created in the German universities placed their stamp on the American system. To get an idea of the enormous prestige that German education had in the United States, one can read the words of the president of Columbia College, New York, Frederick A. P. Barnard, after whom Barnard College is now named. In the year 1886 Barnard wrote that “in past years it has seemed to be an impression almost universally prevailing among the young men graduating from American colleges with aspirations for making a career in a learned or scientific profession, or in the educational field, that a residence of one or more years at a German university was indispensable to anything like signal success.”

In the course of time this prestige diminished somewhat, and with the entrance of the United States into the First World War in the year 1917 against Austria-Hungary and Germany it was even extinguished for a while. Instruction in German ceased to be held in many American schools and colleges. Another sign of the antipathy to Germany is the cancellation of subscriptions to German scholarly periodicals, which one can observe having happened in many American libraries (as for example, at Princeton University).

But after 1918 scholarly relations were resumed. This applies especially to the young discipline of art history. Here it must be said, because it may not be widely known, that art history was in fact already in existence at many American universities and colleges. It did not require the immigration of Germans to be founded. For example, the Department of Art and Archaeology has existed at Princeton since 1882-83. Already in 1912 thirty-four different classes were being held per year at Princeton. Around this time about a quarter of the four-year colleges and universities in the United States were offering art history in the United States. It is perhaps this fact, the relative strength of art history, at least in some universities, that explains why some departments, for example Princeton’s Department of Art and Archaeology, did not need to call many immigrants. In spite of that Adolf Goldschmidt, Paul Frankl’s predecessor at Halle, was offered a position at Princeton.

Much evidence exists for the continuing interest that Americans had for German art history even before 1933, however. For example, Josef Strzygowski and Goldschmidt visited Princeton. Strzygowski gave a lecture at Princeton. He also reviewed a book by the Princeton professor Charles Rufus Morey in the Art Bulletin. In New York Arthur Haseloff, Goldschmidt and Panofsky all taught before the year 1933. There was much interest in the writings of German scholars in many American universities. For examples, a mimeographed copy dating from the 1920's or 1930's of a translation of Alois Riegl’s Spätrömische Kunstindustrie, exists in Marquand Library at Princeton. Morey probably prepared it as an aid for students in his graduate seminar. As evinced by the foundation of the Index of Christian Art, iconography was also a focus of Morey’s interests. There thus existed good reasons why Morey became involved in trying to gain Panofsky for the newly founded Institute for Advanced Study, founded not far from the university in Princeton. Mutatis mutandis, one could explain why other institutes, like the newly founded Institute for Fine Arts at New York University, tried to bring German scholars to the United States.

Although it is well known that Panofsky and many other German scholars exercised a great deal of influence on American scholars and students, it is hard to say that all German art historians enjoyed the same reception. While some immigrants encountered positive conditions, for example at Harvard or in New York, others who taught in Iowa, like Horst Jansen or William Heckscher, were not so favored by their circumstances. Jansen even ran into conflict with the painter Grant Wood, the well known artist of “American Gothic”. It is difficult to say what the undergraduates who heard such distinguished scholars as Richard Krautheimer, Edgar Wind, or Heckscher when they were teaching in such places as Louisville, Kentucky, Iowa City, Iowa, Ames, Iowa, or Northampton, Massachusetts actually learned in their classes. While Heckscher really accomplished something magnificent when he taught young people in his interment camp in Canada – a recent Nobel Prize Winner for Chemistry remembered him fondly – it is unclear how much he or others brought to the formation of professional art historians in the United States. A variety of people have claimed to be Heckscher’s students, but only one such claimant really studied with him in the United States. In fact, the place where Heckscher was teaching at the end of his career, Duke University, had at the time he was there no graduate program in art history, so did not form professional art historians. At that time Duke may be said to have been more of a regional southern college than a great national or international university. One may well wonder what students there, or in the other places where similar luminaries worked, effectively took away from their classes, beyond, the fact, as one of has told this author, that they did not understand Heckscher’s jokes in Latin. Although Krautheimer may have impressed students at Vassar, Edgar Wind does not seem to have left much of an impression at another young women’s college, Smith, where he taught; one of his colleagues there (R. W. Lee) once told this author that one lasting impression was that Wind and his spouse swam naked.

There may be other more serious reasons why some scholars were not heard, or held back their voices. A fine example for this story is the case of Paul Frankl. Paul Frankl is an important counterpoint to Panofsky, because although he did not have a regular position at the Institute for Advanced Study, he also had a continuing position there until his death, as did Panofsky. Frankl also was one of the two professors (more specifically, Jewish professors of art history), along with Panofsky, who came to America after the Nazis took power. In this regard he can be considered one of the most important German professors in this field who came to the United States.

To be sure Frankl was not German. His family, like Freud’s, in fact came from Moravia, where his ancestors had been rabbis. Frankl was born in 1878 in Prague, and educated first at the university there, before he studied art history with Heinrich Wölfflin in Berlin. He then eventually became, Goldschmidt’s successor at the university of Halle. When the Nazis came to power despite his deutsche Gesinnung Frankl lost his position because of his Jewish roots. Because of difficulties in finding a German publisher, his great theoretical synthesis Das System der Kunstwissenschaft had to be published in Brno in the year 1938. In that fateful year Frankl had a bit of luck in that he could come to the United States, where he became a guest at the Institute for Advanced Study.

In the United States Frankl published two important books: one of these is on Gothic art, a volume in the standard series of handbooks put out by the Pelican History of Art. The other volume is an important book on sources on the Gothic. But although Frankl lived in Princeton until his death in 1962, he never enjoyed the influence Panofsky or for that matter many other German-speaking art historians in the United States exercised. One important fact in this connection is that although Frankl’s books in the United States were published in English, they were written in German, and then translated.

Frankl never found his own American voice. Rather, as Kurt Weitzmann has said in his memoirs, Frankl belonged to German society. Although he lived in America for almost a quarter of a century, Frankl rebuilt bridges to Germany very early after the end of the Second World War in 1945. It may be, as Michels has suggested, that Frankl’s personal history, and the reasons why he did not adapt very well, are dependent on his own personal characteristics, his political, Germanophilic attitudes, the relatively advanced age at which he came to the United States, and his lack of linguistic ability, at least as far as speaking English was concerned.

This last reason was undoubtedly very important.  In comparison with Panofsky and many other German-speaking scholars, Frankl never really mastered English, in the sense that he was comfortable writing or speaking it. Gert von der Osten has even written that Frankl was too little confident in English to obtain a position in an American university. According to the diaries that Frankl wrote in German, and that are preserved in the Princeton University Library, Frankl also often spoke German in America.

There are other grounds why important parts of Frankl’s voice remained unheard. Panofsky himself has given us a reason why he and perhaps other art historians like Frankl perhaps deliberately held themselves back.

Irving Lavin, Panofsky’s successor at the Institute for Advanced Study, has emphasized that in contrast to Walter Cook’s aphorism, intellectual exchange was no one-way street for immigrants. But in Panofsky’s own explanation for his situation another reason may be found why some voices were only partially heard, or completely unheard. Panofsky described some of the positive aspects of his move to America in the following terms: “It was a blessing to come into contact and occasionally into conflict – with an Anglo-Saxon positivism whic
h is, in principle, distrustful of abstract speculation; to become more acutely aware of the material problems which in Europe tended to be considered as the concern of museums and schools of technology rather than universities; and, last not least, to be forced to express himself, for better or worse, in English.”

John Coolidge and Colin Eisler have also remarked in separate essays that although Americans were interested in practical problems of art history, they lacked any interest in theoretical questions. Students who attended Panofsky’s classes in the 1940's or studied with him or with other Germans in New York in the 1950's say that they never heard him or other German professors talk about theoretical issues. When he published his previous German essays in Meaning in the Visual Arts, or reformulated his ideas in his book Studies in Iconology, Panofsky left out the theoretical parts of his arguments, and expressed his ideas in a much simpler, clearer, and more object-oriented manner. Besides a few essays on iconography, he mostly restrained himself from theoretical essays in his English-language publications, a remarkable contrast w
ith his German publications.

The fate of another book that Frankl wrote in America is instructive. Frankl’s Zu Fragen des Stils contains observations that could have been important if they had been published during his lifetime, because during the period of the last years of Frankl’s life, the 1950's and early 1960's, there was a lively exchange of ideas about problems of style in the United States, although only a few American scholars took part in them. Meyer Schapiro’s essay on style appeared in Anthropology Today in 1953; James Ackerman’s important essay on style appeared in 1961; George Kubler’s The Shape of Time appeared in the year 1962, the same year in which Frankl died. Frankl’s book evinced critical opinions, indeed changes of opinion from his earlier System der Kunstwissenschaft, including interesting ideas on the geography of art, an earlier interest of his. They are particularly to be contrasted with the ideas expressed on the same subject at the time by other German scholars in exile, such as Nikolaus Pevsner’s The Englishness of English Art, or Panofsky’s The Iconological Antecedents of the Rolls Royce Radiator. However, like Haidt’s treatise, Frankl’s Zu Fragen des Stils remained unpublished during his lifetime. Although Josepha Weitzmann-Fiedler, his long-time assistant on the book, tried to have his work published, only a quarter century after his death did Ernst Ullmann edit and publish it. Frankl’s work appeared in print too late to have been able to contribute to contemporary debates on theory.

In her introduction to Fragen des Stils Josepha Weitzmann-Fiedler says that Kubler and Ackerman used Frankl’s System von Kunstwissenschaft. Ackerman’s own remarks to this author indicate that it was a struggle to read, however. It is also true that Meyer Schapiro cited Frankl in his essay on style of 1953. Kubler also invited Frankl to be a visiting professor at Yale, but so far as may be determined, that was his only teaching activity in the United States.

Moreover, as important as they may now appear, the essays of these American authors and their theoretical interests were untimely. The scholars who cited Frankl are the only American art historians of their generation (Ackerman is a bit younger, since he was born in 1919) who possessed any kinds of theoretical interests. They are at any rate the only ones who often expressed such interest. Recently Ackerman confirmed this impression, as in an article published in CAA News he expressed his dissatisfaction with the lack of theoretical interests and foundations that existed at that time in American art history, and decried its positivistic character – with the notable exceptions of Meyer Schapiro and George Kubler.

Ackerman repeats in this essay what he had already emphasized in a famed plenary lecture before the Annual Meeting of the College Art Association that he delivered in 1958. On that occasion he politely if caustically criticized the specialization and overemphasis on the search for facts and on scholarly techniques that characterized art history. He complained about the lack of theoretical thinking in the United Sttes, and called for a more theoretical posture in art history in America. In this regard Gert von der Osten also seems to have been correct, when in his obituary for Frankl of 1962 he explained the reasons for the failure for Frankl to have had much impact in the United States in similar terms. Von der Osten said that in the Anglo-Saxon world of pragmatic thought Frankl’s fundamental knowledge and views found almost no listeners.

Furthermore, Ackerman has emphasized in a lecture before a more recent annual meeting of the College Art Association of America that if he sent a theoretical essay to one of his German teachers, either they did not acknowledge its receipt, or even asked him why he wasted his time with such questions. Ackerman believes that the German exiles may have intentionally avoided theorizing when they were in America, because they believed that the innocent Americans should be kept untainted by the dangers of abstract thinking – what they though had been one of the causes for the collapse of their own fatherland.

This lack of interest in theory among Americans and German emigrants alike lasted for a rather long time. During the 1960's and 1970's Ackerman often regretted the situation. It is also significant that exactly at the same time that many German art historians retired, the early 1970's, the so-called new American
History of Art appeared.

To conclude; the lack of interest in theorizing had further unintended consequences, that have continued to play a role to this day in American
History of Art. In the United States a need existed to catch up on theory. Perhaps with the change in forms of education humanistic approaches could not stand the change of time. In any case, as important as it may have been in many other regards, the History of Art that Europeans brought over to America was one in which theory was absent. At the time when this author became a graduate student in History of Art in America, in the early 1970's, theoretical approaches were still represented by only three scholars, those already mentioned – Ackerman, Kubler, and Schapiro. The great interest in theory, and also in the pre-American works of German-speaking authors, that has recently been fashionable in History of Art in the United States, may be one result of trying to make up for the past.  German scholars wrote and said much in America. But they did not bring over the theoretical interests and aspects of the discipline that was already available in Europe. They did not directly contribute to a reflective History of Art in the United States, that those interested in theory now practice.



This paper is based on a lecture “The American Voice. Deutsche Kunsthistoriker im Exil in den Vereinigten Staaten,” given at the Annual Meeting, Deutscher Kunsthistorikerverband, Hamburg, Germany, March 23, 2001, and then in English as “German Art Historians in the United States and Paul Frankl,” Moravská Galerie, Brno, Czech Republic, June 26, 2001, and as “German Art Historians in the United States,” Speed Museum of Art, Louisville, Kentucky, September 27, 2001. I have kept the original form, without footnotes; the references in the text should be clear.

Karsten Harries, coming from the discipline of philosophy, is of course a huge exception to the point here discussed: someone who found his voice in the United States, and used it to reflect perceptively on art and architecture.



Vol. 12, No. 1
August 2007