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Boas, George

    Image Credit: John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation

    Full Name: Boas, George

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 28 August 1891

    Date Died: 17 March 1980

    Place Born: Providence, RI, USA

    Place Died: Baltimore, Baltimore Independent City, MD, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): Italian (culture or style)

    Career(s): art critics

    Institution(s): Johns Hopkins University


    Philosopher and historian of ideas scholar; wrote early social histories of art. Boas was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the fifth of seven children of Herman Boas and Sarah Eisenberg (Boas). He attended Classical High School in Providence, RI, where his early interest in Greek and Latin grew. After graduation, Boas studied art at the Rhode Island School of Design under Henry Hunt Clark (b. 1875) and transferred to study English at Brown University, where he completed his B.A. and M.A. in 1913. He studied under the philosopher Josiah Royce (1855-1916) and received his second M.A. from Harvard University in 1915. Spending a further year at Columbia University, Boas then began teaching Forensic Logic and earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley. His dissertation was titled An Analysis of Certain Theories of Truth, with the preface dated April 1917. During WWI, he volunteered for the U.S. army assigned to France and obtained the rank of Lieutenant. Upon demobilization, he returned to the University of California at Berkeley. He was then invited by historian Arthur O. Lovejoy (1873-1962) in 1921 to be a historian of philosophy at Johns Hopkins University. The same year Boas married the sculptor Simone Brangier (1895-1981). In 1923, he co-founded the History of Ideas Club with Lovejoy, through which his studies on the history of philosophical conceptions influenced fellow scholars. His earliest foray into art writing came with his translation of Clemenceau’s book on Monet, 1930. He edited a book of essays on Courbet in 1938. As the U.S. entered WWII, Boas enlisted and was sent to England and Brussels. Serving as Commander in the Naval Reserve, he then became the ranking naval officer at Eisenhower’s Supreme Allied Headquarters. After Germany’s surrender, Boas was appointed to Belgium where he identified and ascertained artworks confiscated by the Germans. His contribution led to the return of a looted altarpiece by Jan van Eyck to the Cathedral of Ghent. Upon his return to Johns Hopkins University, he wrote one of the early works on social art history (Kleinbauer), discussing the reception of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa through the ages, in his 1950 book in criticism, Wingless Pegasus. He retired as an Emeritus professor in 1957. Boas settled down at Cherry Hill Farm, Baldwin, MD, and continued to be a dedicated scholar until his death in 1980.

    Selected Bibliography

    • An Analysis of Certain Theories of Truth. Berkeley, CA: Univ. of California Press, 1921;
    • French Philosophies of the Romantic Period. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1925;
    • The Major Traditions of European Philosophy. New York and London: Harper and Brothers, 1929 [eissued as The Adventures of Human Thought;
    • translator, Clemenceau, George Eugène Benjamin, Claude Monet, the Water Lilies. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Doran and Company, 1930;
    • and Lovejoy, A. O., Primitivism and Related Ideas in Antiquity. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1935;
    • “The Mona Lisa in the History of Taste,” Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 1, No. 2, 1940;
    • Essays on Primitivism and Related Ideas in the Middle Ages. New York: Octagon Books, 1948, 1966;
    • Wingless Pegasus, a handbook for critics. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press, 1950;
    • Dominant Themes of Modern Philosophy, History. New York: Ronald Press Company, 1957;
    • The Inquiring Mind. La Salle, IL: Open Court Pub. Co., 1959;
    • Rationalism in Greek Philosophy. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1961;
    • The Heaven of Invention. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1962;
    • The History of Ideas. New York: Scribner, 1969;


    • Gombrich, E. G. “In Memory of George Boas,” Journal of the History of Ideas, 42, no. 2 (1981): 335–354;
    • Hull, Richard T. “The American Philosophical Association Centennial Series,” The American Philosophical Association Centennial Series, 2013, 75–77;
    • 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, 89;
    • Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Research Guide to the History of Western Art. Sources of Information in the Humanities, no. 2. Chicago: American Library Association, 1982, 122;
    • Wiener, Philip P. “In Memoriam: George Boas (1891-1980),” Journal of the History of Ideas, 41, no. 3 (1980): 453–456.


    Contributors: LaNitra Michele Walker, Lee Sorensen, and Siyu Chen


    LaNitra Michele Walker, Lee Sorensen, and Siyu Chen. "Boas, George." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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