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Curjel, Hans

    Full Name: Hans Richard Curjel

    Other Names:

    • H.C.

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1896

    Date Died: 1974

    Place Born: Karlsruhe, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany

    Place Died: Zürich, Switzerland

    Home Country/ies: Germany

    Subject Area(s): Art Nouveau, European, Jugendstil (German, Austrian Art Nouveau), Modern (style or period), performing arts (discipline), theater (discipline), and theater arts


    Jugenstil/Art Nouveau specialist; theater director. Curjel was born to famous architect, Robert Curjel (1873-1925) and Marie Herrmann (Curjel) (1872-1940). After graduating from the gymnasium in Karlsruhe, Curjel served as a soldier in World War I in uninterrupted war service, 1914-1919. Though his initial university interest was music, he switched to art history studying at the universities in Munich and Freiburg im Breisgau under Heinrich Wölfflin, Hans Jantzen, Paul Frankl, August Liebmann Mayer and Wilhelm Vöge. His doctoral degree was granted in 1925 in Freiburg with a dissertation written under Jantzen on the early years of Hans Baldung Grien. His classmates included the photographer Hans Finsler (1891-1972), and art historians Siegfrid Giedion, Carola Giedion-Welcker, Hertha Wescher and Franz Roh. In 1920, Curjel became curatorial assistant at the Karlsruher Kunsthalle (Art Gallery) under director Willy F. Storck. He married Elfriede G. M. (Yella) Fahrner (1897-1977), a musician, in 1921. Curjel returned to music, 1924-1925, as acting conductor of the Düsseldorf Schauspielhaus (Theater). When Storck was hospitalized extensively, he assumed a deputy director role of the Kunsthalle.

    In 1927, Curjel received an opportunity to direct at the State Opera at the Platz der Republik (Kroll Opera) in Berlin, a progressive opera house. Through his leadership, new music by Schönberg, Strawinsky, Hindemith, Janàcek, Krenek, and Milhaud were debuted. He empowered avant-garde artists such as Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Oskar Schlemmer, and Giorgio de Chirico to create stage design. A performance of Schlemmer’s Triadischem Ballett (Triadic Ballet) was directed at the theatre. In 1931, after closing of the Kroll Opera, he became theatre director to the German Opera House in Berlin; in addition to lecturing at Lessing University and pursuing journalistic activity.

    In 1933, Curjel, who was raised Protestant Christ but of Jewish heritage, was dismissed from his post by the Nazi government on “racial” grounds and accused of being a protagonist of modernism is the Weimar Republic.  He fled to Switzerland and with the help of Giedion and Ernst F. Burckhardt (1900-1958), Curjel became the chief director of the Corso Theatre (Variety theater) in Zürich, a position he held until 1942. He also promoted the music in Gstaad. After the war, he became the director of the Stadttheater Chur where Berthold Brecht premiered his play Antigone. In 1949, Curjel toured the United States, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation to study theaters. He freelanced as an art, theater, a music critic for publications (among others for Das Werk) and presenting Swiss and German radio broadcasts SWF and NDR.

    His 1952 exhibtion, Um 1900 at the Kunstgewerbemuseum in Zürich was the first comprehensive overview of Jugendstil (or Art Nouveau) becoming an impetus for the rediscovery the style. He spent his remaining years lecturing and editing the works of the Jugenstil designer Henri Van de Velde, his collected writings in 1955 and his autobiography in 1962.

    Curjel along with Will Grohmann and Sigfried Giedion were considered ”polyhistorians” scholars who viewed the arts together to see them as a cultural phenomenon (Staber). 

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation:] Die Jugendentwicklung des Hans Baldung Grien.  Freiburg, 1925; Hans Baldung Grien. Munich: O.C. Recht, 1923; Um 1900. Art Nouveau und Jugendstil Kunst und Kunstgewerbe aus Europa und Amerika zur Zeit der Stilwende. Zürich  Kunstgewerbemuseum, 1952; edited, van de Velde, Henry. Zum neuen Stil: aus seinen Schriften ausgewählt und eingeleitet von Hans Curjel. Munich: R. Piper 1955; edited, van de Velde, Henry. Geschichte meines Lebens.  Munich: R. Piper, 1962.


    [obituary:] Roth, Alfred and Staber, Margit, and Galli, Remo G. “Hans Curjel 1896-1974.” Werk 61 (1974): 359-361;  Finsler, Hans. “Siebzig Jahre und Hans Curjel.” Werk 53, 1966: 93-94; 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. 107-11.

    Contributors: Cassandra Klos


    Cassandra Klos. "Curjel, Hans." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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