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Hagen, Oskar

    Full Name: Hagen, Oskar

    Other Names:

    • Oskar Frank Leonard Hagen

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1888

    Date Died: 1957

    Place Born: Wiesbaden, Hesse, Germany

    Place Died: Madison, WI, USA

    Home Country/ies: Germany


    Spanish studies scholar; founded the department of Art and the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Hagen’s father was a German, Nestor William Hagen and his mother, Ellen Marion Owen-Snow (Hagen), a British subject. His father worked in the United States as one of the early members of the New York Symphony Orchestra and was later naturalized. The younger Hagen attended grammar schools in Weisbaden and Ihlfeldt before entering college. Hagen studied music and music composition under Carl Schuricht and in Berlin at the Königliche Hochschule für Musik under Engelbert Humperdinck. He also pursued art history at the Universities of Berlin and Munich before receiving his doctorate from the University of Halle in 1914 under Wilhelm Waetzoldt. His dissertation was on Correggio attribution. The same year as his degree, he married a Danish opera singer, Thyra Leisner (d. 1938). Hagen initially took at job at the applied arts museum (Kunstgewerbemuseum) in Halle, where he remained until 1918. Specializing in German Renaissance art, he became a privatdozent in 1918, rising to associate professor of art history department at the University in Göttingen. At Göttingen he revived an interest in performing the operas of George Frederick Handel, the first in Germany, beginning in 1920. Hagen directed the Göttingen Handel Festival until his departure to the United States. Internationally, he was much better known for his revival of Handel than for art history. He visited the United States in 1924 as the Carl Schurz Visiting Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The following year he accepted a full-time position at the University, where he founded an art history department and later the University’s art collection. Hagen served as the Department’s director for twenty-three years. He set out on a strong publishing program, beginning with a pedogical survery, Art Epochs and their Leaders: a Survey of the Genesis of Modern Art published in 1927. An interest in Spanish art led to another English-language book Patterns and Principles of Spanish Art in 1936. The same year, he assisted the art historian Wolfgang Stechow who was fleeing Nazi Germany in securing a position in the United States, while the Nazi government, through the university at Göttingen, awarded him an honor as an outstanding German scholar abroad. Hagen declined the offer to attend in Hitler’s presence. Hagen developed American art-history courses and issued his The Birth of the American Tradition in Art in 1940. After the death of his first wife in 1938, Hagen remarried in Boston to a Swiss woman, Beatrice Bentz. In 1944, he returned to music and music composition, writing several works. His pieces were given some of their first performances in post-war Germany beginning in 1945. He remained chair of the UW Art history department until his death in 1957. His papers are held at the University of Wisconsin. Hagen’s daughter was the actress Uta Hagen (1919-2004). Hagen’s teaching in the fledgling Wisconsin department was influential. A number of art scholars named him as inspiring, including the Goya scholar Fred Licht, whose 1973 book on the artist’s sources was dedicated to Hagen.

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation:] Correggio Apokryphen: eine kritische Studie über die sogenannten Jugendwerke des Correggio. Halle, 1914, and published, Berlin: Hyperionverlag, 1915; chapters 1 and 2 published as, Die Madonna mit dem heiligen Franziskus und die sogenannten Jugendwerke des Antonio da Correggio. 1914, Art Epochs and their Leaders: a Survey of the Genesis of Modern Art. New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1927; Hans Baldungs Rosenkranz, Seelengärtlein, Zehn Gebote, Zwölf Apostel. Munich: R. Piper, 1928; Patterns and Principles of Spanish Art. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1936; The Birth of the American Tradition in Art. New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1940.


    “Hagen, Oskar (Frank Leonard).” Nation Cyclopedia of American Biography 47:248; Oxford Music Online [New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians] “Handel, George Frederic, §23: Handel and Posterity.”; “Goettingen Cites Three Americans, Two Get Honorary Degrees at Reich Fete.” New York Times June 28, 1937, p. 19; [obituary:] Waltrous, James S. “Oskar Frank Leonard Hagen (1888-1957).” College Art Journal 17 no. 2 (Winter, 1958): 195-196.


    "Hagen, Oskar." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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