Egbert, Donald Drew
Donald Drew Egbert
Norwalk, CT, USA
Princeton, NJ, USA
Medievalist and American architectural historian. Egbert was born to Rev. George Drew Egbert (1865-1940) and Kate Estelle Powers (Egbert) (d. 1938); his father was a Congregational minister and collector of early American furniture. The younger Egbert received his B.A. from Princeton University in 1924. He studied architecture, receiving an M.F.A. in 1927. Egbert continued graduate between 1927-1929 under Charles Rufus Morey, who was at that time engaged in cataloging the collection of the Museo Cristiano, part of the Vatican library. Several of Egbert's first articles were on Vatican ivories which he was assisting Morey in researching. Like Morey, too, he never completed a Ph.D. He joined Princeton as an instructor in 1929. His perceptive and scathing 1930 review of the book by Henry-Russell Hitchcock, Modern Architecture, debuted not only his interest in the medium, but an early tendency to look beyond stylistic continua as an explanation of art history. He was a lecturer in ancient architecture at Bryn Mawr College for 1930, but witnessed Frank Lloyd Wright's Princeton lectures the same year. He continued graduate work at the University of Paris, receiving a Brevet d'Art de la Sorbonne in 1931. In 1935 he was promoted to assistant professor. His early work was on medieval art manifested itself in his first book, which appeared in 1940, The Tickhill Psalter. Egbert had also been working during the 1930's on a manuscript on the beaux-arts tradition in French architecture, which he completed in 1941. His interest in American art and architecture now came to the fore. At the beginning in World War II, he helped found and teach the undergraduate program "American Civilization" at Princeton in 1942, which he continued until his retirement. In 1943 Egbert was awarded the Haskins Medal from Mediaeval Academy of America for distinguished scholarship for the Tickhill Psalter book. He was promoted to associate professor in 1944. That year, too, Egbert published an innovative study on the foreign influences to American architecture. Two years later, at age 44, he married another medievalist art historian, Virginia Grace Wylie (1912-1998), and was named (full) professor of art, archaeology, and architecture. He never wrote on medieval art after the war, concentrating on social history, architecture and American art. As a photographer, he exhibited photos at Princeton University Library in 1957, and George Eastman House, Rochester, NY, in 1958. Egbert was appointed Butler Professor of the History of Architecture in 1968. He retired, professor emeritus in 1970, continuing to teach the Civilization course. In retirement, he worked on revising his beaux-arts manuscript, but suffered a stroke in late 1972 and died in early 1973. The book The Beaux-Arts Tradition in French Architecture, was published posthumously. His students included David Van Zanten, Neil Levine and the architect Robert Venturi. Egbert was a social and intellectual historian. His writing examined the political forces and cultural influences that shaped the arts, especially architecture, frequently choosing stances and subjects currently out of vogue. His interdisciplinary articles, such as "Art History and the Study of American Civilization" (1945) or "The Idea of the 'Avant-garde' in Art and Politics," in 1967, appeared in a wide variety of academic journals. As an architectural historian, he was at odds with the dominant modernist (and Bauhaus) view of architecture propounded by Hitchcock and Philip Johnson and publicized by the Museum of Modern Art, NY, which de-emphasized the social content of contemporary architecture in favor of formalist values. This distinction is no where clearer than in his book, Social Radicalism and the Arts. A dramatic teacher, his lectures, read from nearly a complete text and while he was seated, were extremely popular at Princeton.
The Tickhill Psalter and Related Manuscripts: a School of Manuscript illumination in England during the Early Fourteenth Century. New York: The New York Public Library/Department of Art and Archaeology of Princeton University, 1940; "Religious Expression in American Architecture." in, Religious Perspectives in American Culture. Smith, James Ward, and Jamison, A. Leland, eds. Vol. 2 Religion in American Life. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1961, pp. 361-408.; [expanded form of his 1952 essay] Socialism and American Art in the Light of European Utopianism, Marxism, and Anarchism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1967; Social Radicalism and the Arts, Western Europe: A Cultural History from the French Revolution to 1968. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1970; Van Zanten, David, ed. The Beaux-Arts Tradition in French Architecture. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980; "The Idea of the 'Avant-garde' in Art and Politics." American Historical Review 73 (1967): 339-66; "The Idea of Organic Expression and American Architecture." In, Persons, Stow, ed. Evolutionary Thought in America. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1950; "Art History and the Study of American Civilization." College Art Journal 4, no. 4 (May 1945): 182-186; "North Italian Gothic Ivories in the Museo Cristiano of the Vatican Library." Art Studies 7 (1929): 169-206; [review of Hitchcock book:] "Modern Architecture by Henry-Russell Hitchcock Jr." Art Bulletin 12, no. 1 (March 1930): 98-99.
Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Research Guide to the History of Western Art. Sources of Information in the Humanities, no. 2. Chicago: American Library Association, 1982, pp. 128, 126, 159 mentioned; Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Modern Perspectives in Western Art History: An Anthology of 20th-Century Writings on the Visual Arts. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971, pp. 85, 103, 312, mentioned 51, 59, cited 88; Venturi, Robert. "Donald Drew Egbert--A Tribute," and Van Zanten, David, "Editor's Note." in, Van Zanten, David, ed. Egbert, Donald D. The Beaux-Arts Tradition in French Architecture. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980, pp. xiii-xvii; Shirley, David L. "Donald D. Egbert, an Art Historian." New York Times January 5, 1973, p. 28.