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Born, Wolfgang

    Image Credit: ArchInForm

    Full Name: Born, Wolfgang

    Other Names:

    • Wolfgang Born

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 02 October 1893

    Date Died: 15 June 1949

    Place Born: Wrocław, Poland

    Place Died: New York, NY, USA

    Home Country/ies: Germany

    Subject Area(s): Byzantine (culture or style), Medieval (European), Modern (style or period), nineteenth century (dates CE), painting (visual works), Russian (culture or style), and twentieth century (dates CE)


    Byzantine and Russian art specialist, later historian of 19th- and 20th-century painting (U.S. career). Born was born in Breslau, Silesia, Prussia, which is present-day Wroclaw, Poland. Born’s parents were Gustav Born (1850-1900), a professor of anatomy and embryology at the University in Breslau, and Berthe Lipstein (Born). Born served in World War I in the sanitary corps. After the war he married Susi Bial in 1918 studying studio art at schools between 1919-1923 in Munich and under Édouard Vuillard in Paris. As an artist, Born issued a series of lithographs in 1921 to illustrate the 1912 novella Der Tod in Venedig (Death in Venice) by Thomas Mann (1875-1955). Mann so approved of the art that he wrote Born, revealing for the first time that the protagonist was drawn from the composer Gustav Mahler (1860-1911). Born moved to Vienna the same year, divorcing Bial in 1925. In Vienna he worked as a free-lance journalist, book illustrator, radio art critic and extension professor at the Volkshochschule. He turned to art history in 1928, attending classes at the universities of Munich, under Heinrich Wölfflin and Vienna under Josef Rudolf Thomas Strzygowski. Born wrote his dissertation under Strzygowski in 1931 on the topic of animal representation in interlace design of illustrated books. He worked briefly as an expertizer at the Dorotheum in Vienna, but the rise of the Nazis in Germany in 1933 prevented further publishing there (though Roman Catholic, he was of Jewish extraction). Shortly before the annexation of Austria by the Third Reich, Born emigrated to the United States in 1937 to avoid persecution. In the United States he secured a job as Art Director at Maryville College, St. Louis, MO, teaching art and art history. He became a U.S. citizen in 1943. The following year he moved to New York, taking a position at Queens College, New York, then professor of Art History at Louisiana State University, New Orleans, 1945-1948. Born wrote the obituary for Wölfflin in the College Art Journal in 1945. In Louisiana Born married a second time to Mary Mercer in 1946. He returned to New York in 1948 as professor of art history at Hunter College (City University of New York). The same year Born published American Landscape Painting; an Interpretation, which brought to the attention of the American reading public the importance of American art (Wickiser). He suffered a heart attack and died in 1949. Born’s half brother (through his father’s first marriage) was the Nobel-prize-winning physicist Max Born (1882-1970). Born’s publications were largely journal articles, ranging from the scholarly to the non-art publications. From Strzygowski, he drew an appreciation of psychological aspects of art, publishing articles in art in several psychology journals. He had begun to publish monographs in his new-found area of American art at the time of his death.

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation:] Das Tiergeflecht in der nordrussischen Buchmalerei. Vienna, 1931, published, Seminarium Kondakovianum 5 (1932): 63-97; edited, Strzygowski-Festschrift: zum 70. Geburtstag dargebracht von seinen Schülern. Klagenfurt, s.n.,: 1932; Johann Baptist Reiter, 1813-1890: Vienna: Galerie Neumann & Salzer, 1937; Religious Art: from St. Louis and its Vicinity. St. Louis, MO: Maryville College, 1941; “Fetisch, Amulett und Talisman.” CIBA Zeitschrift (1937), English, “Fetish, Amulet and Talisman” CIBA Symposium 7, no.7 (October 1945): 102-132; Still-life Painting in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1947; American Landscape Painting; an Interpretation. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1948; “Frühe Textilkunst Nordamerikas.” CIBA Rundschau 82 (December 1948): 3040-3074.Art: Der Tod in Venedig: neun farbige Lithographien zu Thomas Manns Novelle. Munich:: D.u[nd].R. Bischoff, 1921


    National Cyclopedia of American Biography 37 (1951): 497ff; 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. 60-64; Baron, Frank. “Wolfgang Born und Thomas Mann.” in, Thomas Mann, Der Tod in Venedig: Wirklichkeit, Dichtung, Mythos. Lübeck: Schmidt-Römhild, 2003; [obituaries:] Wickiser, Ralph. “Wolfgang Born.” College Art Journal 9 (Winter 1949/1950): 208; New York Times June 16, 1949, p. 49; Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 8 no.1/2 (January-June 1949):133-134.


    "Born, Wolfgang." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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