Skip to content

Bier, Justus

    Image Credit: John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation

    Full Name: Bier, Justus

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1899

    Date Died: 1990

    Place Born: Nuremberg (also Nürnberg), Germany

    Place Died: Raleigh, Wake, NC, USA

    Home Country/ies: Germany


    Riemenschneider scholar, professor and director of the North Carolina Museum of Art. Bier grew up in a wealthy Nuremberg family. He attended the Humanistisches Gymnasium in that city. After graduation in 1917, he fought in the first World War 1917-18. Between 1919 and 1924 Bier studied art history, archaeology, and medieval and modern history at the universities in Munich, Erlangen, Jena, Bonn and finally Zürich. His major professors were Paul Clemen and Heinrich Wölfflin. His dissertation, written under Wölfflin, was on the early work of his home town’s most famous artist, Tilman Riemenschneider. It was granted in 1924 and published the following year. Between 1924-1930 Bier he began publishing his magisterial book on Riemenschneider while lecturing (Dozent) at the Volkschule. He also contributed articles on modern architecture. In 1931 he married the art historian Senta Dietzel (1900-1978), whose brother was the gallery owner Max Dietzel, a sponsor of the Künstlergruppe Brücke shows and other modern art. From 1930-36 Bier was a curator of the Kestner Society and Museum in Hannover which mounted contemporary art exhibitions. Bier himself collected the work of Bauhaus artists Paul Klee, Oskar Schlemmer and Lyonel Feininger. In 1936 the Nazi government closed the Kestner Society and banished Bier, who was Jewish. Bier withdrew first to upper Bavaria and then, in 1937 immigrated to the United States. His former classmate, Richard Krautheimer recommended Bier for the position he was vacating at the University of Louisville, Kentucky. Bier taught art history there 1937-60, acting as Chair of the department 1946-60. While Chair at Louisville, he founded the Allen R. Hite Institute. He was a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, during the year 1953-54, and visiting professor at the Freie Universität, Berlin in 1956 and a Fulbright lecturer in Würzburg, 1960-61. He supplied over two hundred pieces of art criticism for the Louisville Courier Journal. In 1960, Bier was appointed to be the second director of the state art museum in North Carolina, replacing the late Wilhelm Rheinhold Otto Valentiner. He functioned as director of the North Carolina Museum of art until his retirement in 1970. His papers are housed at the University of Louisville where an endowed chair is named for him. Bier was a connoisseur-scholar who’s research focused principally on gothic and renaissance architecture and sculpture. He was an exponent of modern art and architecture and was friends with many Bauhaus architects (including Mies van der Rohe).

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation] Die Jugendwerke Tilmann Riemenschneider. Zürich, 1924. Reworked and reissued as volume one, Die frühen Werke, of the Würzburg 1925 set, below.”Riemenschneider’s Helpers in Need.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin ns 21 (June 1963): 317-26; “Two Statues: St. Stephen and St. Lawrence by Riemenschneider in the Cleveland Museum of Art.” Art Quarterly 23 (Autumn 1960): 214-27; “Riemenschneider’s St. Jerome and his Other Works in Alabaster.” The Art Bulletin 33 (December 1951): 226-34; “Riemenschneider’s Tomb of Emperor Henry and Empress Cunegund.” The Art Bulletin 29 (June 1947): 95-117; “Lyonel Feininger.” Die Kunst 65 (May 1932): 224-9; “Hundert Jahre Bauen; Ausstellung in Hannover.” Kunst und Kunstler 30 (October 1931): 33; Nürnbergisch fränkische Bilderkunst. Bonn: F. Cohen, 1922.;Tilmann Riemenschneider. 4 vols. Würzburg: Verlagsdruckerei Würzburg, 1925-1978; Tilmann Riemenschneider: His Life and Work. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1982. 0.Metzler


    Wendland, Ulrike. Biographisches Handbuch deutschsprachiger Kunsthistoriker im Exil: Leben und Werk der unter dem Nationalsozialismus verfolgten und vertriebenen Wissenschaftler. Munich: Saur, 1999, vol. 1, pp. 50-5; “New Director of the North Carolina Museum of Art.” Art News 59 (February 1961): 8; Kentgens-Craig, Margret. “The Arts: Justus Bier, Second Director, NC Museum of Art.” They Fled Hitler’s Germany and Found Refuge in North Carolina. Southern Research Report 8. Chapel Hill, NC: Academic Affairs Library, Center for the Study of the American South, 1996. pp. 91-104.


    "Bier, Justus." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

    More Resources

    Search for materials by & about this art historian: