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Berger, Klaus

    Full Name: Berger, Klaus

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1901

    Date Died: 2000

    Place Born: Berlin, Germany

    Place Died: Paris, Île-de-France, France

    Home Country/ies: Germany

    Subject Area(s): Modern (style or period)


    Modernist art historian and art librarian, professor University of Kansas. Berger studied art history under Heinrich Wölfflin, Adolph Goldschmidt, Georg Vitzthum von Eckstädt and Paul Frankl at the respective universities of Munich, Berlin, Heidelberg and Göttingen. He completed his dissertation under Moritz Geiger in aesthetics at Göttingen in 1925, his topic addressing Wölfflin’s methodology. From 1926-28 was an assistant and one of the earliest collaborators at the Warburg Library in Hamburg, under Fritz Saxl. He was a lecturer on art at the University of Berlin Extension, Berlin, between 1927-33 and head librarian at the Berlin Municipal Libraries, Berlin, 1929-1933. With the advent of the Nazi party’s authority in 1933, Berger was forced to flee Germany, not because of religion (he was from a protestant family) but because of his profile in the Social Democratic party. He went first to France were he worked as a library assistant at the Bibliothèque Nationale, lecturing on art (1936-1939) at an independent German-speaking school there. Just before the Nazi invasion of France, he secured an emergency visa to the United States, emigrating in 1941. He taught at Northwestern University as a lecturer on art, 1943-1945. As the war was winding down in Europe, Berger joined the U.S. Army University and returned to France at Biarritz, as a professor of art in 1945. He switched to the U.S. Military Government of Bavaria (OMGUS), where, as an officer, he worked in the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Section for 1946. After war service he joined the University of Kansas City (now the University of Missouri at Kansas City), as an assistant professor of art (1947-1950) moving to the University of Kansas, Lawrence in 1950 as an assistant professor, eventually rising to professor of art history. He retired in 1970 and resettled in France.Berger’s 1952 book on Géricault, the first modern biography of the artist, demonstrates Berger’s methodology as an art historian. Downplaying the dominant view of Géricault as motivated by the Romantic movement, Berger emphasized the artist’s political commitment. His quasi-Marxist approach, one reviewer remarked, follows that of Frederick Antal. Indeed, Berger’s brother was a prominent communist in pre-war Germany. Berger’s interest was on reinterpreting the artist, rather than a discovery of new documents. The popularity of his approach–Berger employed Freudian analysis for a number of pictures–is demonstrated by the book’s rapid translation into both French and English. However, Berger’s emphasis on reinterpretation was at the cost of scrutiny of the original work. In a caustic reply to the Germain Seligman (q.v.) review of Berger’s book in the Art Bulletin, Lorenz Eitner took Berger to task for accepting works as autograph which even then were suspect. The fact that Berger validated a painting in Seligman’s gallery only added to the apparent impropriety.

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation] Das Problem der Entwicklung in der modernen Kunstwissenschaft. Erster Teil: Wölfflins Formauffassung und ihr Umkreis. Manuscript: extract in Jahrbuch der Philosophischen Fakultät Göttingen, 1924, 1-12; Géricault: Drawings and Watercolors. Recklinghausen: Bittner, 1946; edited. French Master Drawings of the Nineteenth Century. New York: Harper, 1950; Géricault und Sein Werk. Vienna: Schroll, 1952, English, Géricault and His Work. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1955; Odilon Redon: Phantasie und Farbe. Cologne: Du Mont Schauberg, 1964, English, Odilon Redon: Fantasy and Colour. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1964; Stilstrukturen des 19. Jahrhunderts, in [Festschrift Joseph Gantner], Zeitschrift für ästhetik und allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft, new series 12 (1967): 192-203; Japonismus in der westlichen Malerei: 1860-1920. Munich: Prestel-Verlag, 1980, English, Japonisme in Western Painting from Whistler to Matisse. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992; edited and translated in English, Geiger, Moritz. Die Bedeutung der Kunst. Zugänge zu einer materialen Wertästhetik, as The Significance of Art: A Phenomenological Approach to Aesthetics. Lanham: Center for Advanced Research in Phenomenology and University Press of America, 1986. 0.Metzler


    Ulrike Wendland, Biographisches Handbuch deutschsprachiger Kunsthistoriker im Exil: Leben und Werk der unter dem Nationalsozialismus verfolgten und vertriebenen Wissenschaftler. München: Saur, 1999, vol. 1, 39-42; Kürschners Deutscher Gelehrten Kalender 1954. Berlin: Gruyter.; Werner Röder and Herbert A. Strauss,Biographisches Handbuch der deutschsprachigen Emigration. München: Saur, 1980-83; Helene Roussel, “Bienvenue monsieur Berger! (Interview with Klaus Berger)”,in Exilés en France: Souvenirs d’antifascistes allemands émigrés (1933-1945), Paris: Maspero, 1982; [Carmela Thiele, Klaus Berger: Kunsthistoriker, Bibliothekar und Pädagoge (unpublished ms., 1995)]; obituary as “Deaths: Klaus Berger,” in Oread, University of Kansas Newsletter, February 25, 2000 ( On Gericault und Sein Werk: Seligman, Germain. Art Bulletin 35 (December 1954): 320-26. Eitner, Lorenz. “Letters to the Editor.” Art Bulletin 36 (June 1954): 167-8; reply, Seligman, Germain. Art Bulletin 36 (June 1954): 168-9.


    "Berger, Klaus." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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