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Hausenstein, Wilhelm

    Full Name: Hausenstein, Wilhelm

    Other Names:

    • Wilhelm Hausenstein

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 17 June 1882

    Date Died: 03 June 1957

    Place Born: Hornberg, Baden-Württemberg, Germany

    Place Died: Munich, Bavaria, Germany

    Home Country/ies: Germany

    Subject Area(s): Expressionist (style), German Expressionist (movement), and Marxism


    Marxist art historian, Expressionism exponent and later detractor and post-war German diplomat. Hausenstein’s parents were Wilhelm Hausenstein (senior) and Clara Baumann (Hausenstein) (d.1937). His father was a financial officer for the duchy of Baden. After graduating from the Gymnasium in Karlsruhe in 1900, he traveled in the typical German fashion between universities, Heidelberg, Tübingen and Munich studying philosophy, classical philology, history and economics–and heard the art history lectures of Karl Voll. He graduated summa cum laude from Munich in 1905. After briefly living in Paris, Hausenstein became involved in socialist politics, joining the SPD, Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (German Socialist Party), in Germany in 1907. Around the same time he decided to devote himself to freelance writing, contributing to the monthly journal Sozialistischen Monatsheften, but also attending lectures on the history of art at the University of Munich. He traveled the continent in 1908 and began publishing books on art-historical themes. His book Der Bauern-Bruegel, 1910, was the first German-language monograph on Pieter Brueghel the Elder. His work on the social history of art began with a small book, Der nackte Mensch in der Kunst aller Zeiten und Völkerand (The Nude in Art of all Ages and Traditions) in 1911. He quickly became a leading critical supporter of the Expressionist art movement. In 1912 he was involved in the founding of the Munich New Secession, co-editing at the same time Der Neue Merkur with Efraim Frisch (1873-1942). He predicted that socialism would result in an era of collectivist art in his 1913 book Der nackte Mensch in der Kunst aller Zeiten und Völker. He continued to be a leading exponent in the expressionist movement. Hausenstein, and fellow SPD member Adolf Behne, were the only critics to promote Expressionism from a left-wing point of view (Werkmeister). He met the poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) in 1915. He expanded his Der nackte Mensch into a larger book on art sociology, Die Kunst und die Gesellschaft, 1916. During his military service in World War I, he was stationed in Brussels from 1916-17. There he edited the German-language journal Der Belfried and contributed to the Frankfurter Zeitung and the art journal Die Kunstblatt edited by Paul Westheim. In Brussels he met his future wife, Margot Kohn Lipper (1890-1997), widow of a fallen German soldier. Hausenstein increasing became disillusioned with Expressionism, publishing the lectures on the topic in 1918 as über Expressionismus in der Malerei. In it he criticized Expressionism as manifesting decadence and intimately connected the movement with the doomed war effort. He Lipper married in 1919. Throughout the 1920s Hausenstein was a contract writer of art books, ranging in topics from Renaissance artists to the Isenheim Altar, Expressionism and Paul Klee. The Soviet cultural minister Anatoly Lunacharsky (1875-1933) translated and published Hausenstein’s sociology of art Opyt sotsiologii izobrazitel’nogo iskusstva (Опыт социологии изобразительного искусства) in 1920. His 500+ page survey of art history, Kunstgeschichte, appeared in 1927. An essay of his also appeared as an article in the 14-volume Soviet Encyclopedia of the same year. His only work to ever be translated in English, a minor book on Fra Angelico, appeared in 1928. After the assumption of the Nazis to power in Germany in 1933, Hausenstein’s Marxist methodology became a liability. He was removed as editor of the Münchner Neuesten Nachrichten, finding work in 1934 as a literary editor for the women’s pages in the Frankfurter Zeitung. The Reich forbade him to publish books in 1936 and denounced him in the Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibition as a supporter of Jewish and modern artists. He and his wife (she formerly Jewish) converted to Roman Catholicism in 1940. He remained at the Zeitung until the newspaper was finally closed by the Nazis in 1943. He spent his years of forced isolation writing his autobiography, Lux Perpetua. He and Margot narrowly escaped deportation to concentration camps by the Gestapo. After the end of the war, Hausenstein emerged as one of the few art writers who had remained in Germany trustable by the occupation forces. Hausenstein wrote an open letter to Thomas Mann (1875-1955), published in the Süddeutsche Zeitung in December 1945, refuting Mann’s claim that all literature published in Germany during the Third Reich was worthless, citing many examples, including art-historical literature. He continued to contribute to the Süddeutschen Zeitung, writing art and literary criticism, on nineteenth-century French poetry. His autobiographic novel, Lux Perpetua, appeared in 1947. In his post-war art writing, Hausenstein criticized modern art as socially dysfunctional and symptomatic of decline, a stance comparable to that of Vienna-School art historian (and former Nazi) Hans Sedlmayr. His 1949 Was bedeutet die moderne Kunst? (What Does Modern Art Mean?), which reiterated his anti-modernist stance, was criticized by Bauhaus artist Willi Baumeister in the 1950 Darmstädter Gespräch in an essay also criticizing Sedlmayr’s 1948 book Verlust der Mitte. In 1950 he was appointed General Consul in Paris, and in 1953 German ambassador to France, a post he held until 1955. His experiences in Paris were published posthumously in 1961 as Pariser Erinnerungen: Aus fünf Jahren diplomatischen Dienstes 1950-1955. He suffered a coronary infarction and died in Munich. He is buried in the cemetery of the St. Georg in München-Bogenhausen. His papers reside at the Wilhelm Hausenstein Archiv, Hornberg. In the years leading up to the First World War, Hausenstein was a leading supporter of Expressionism. In his Der nackte Mensch in der Kunst aller Zeiten und Völker of 1911, he prophesied a new era of art based on socialist ideas of collective endeavor. His sociological-based approach attempted to ground stylistic analysis within a Marxist view of history. His change of mind regarding Expressionism’s significance is similar to that of Wilhelm Worringer who also changed his a pre-war championing of Expressionism to post-war detractor (although Hausenstein had been critical of Worringer’s nationalist stance in the early years of the war). The extreme popularity of Expressionism by 1918 Hausenstein saw as a “vulgarization”, a key reason for this shift. His introductory books on artists were some of the most well-researched of the genre. His Giotto, for example, examines the theories of Karl Friedrich von Rumohr thought Jacob Burckhardt on the artist in a thoughtful discussion of historiography. Although Hausenstein continued to write about modern art in later years, his views were always followed the model of decline and dissolution. As a German socialist art historian, he was part of a tradition of historians such as Arnold Hauser and Frederick Antal.

    Selected Bibliography

    [collected essays:] Melchers, Hans, ed. Die Kunst in diesem Augenblick: Aufsätze und Tagebuchblätter aus 50 Jahren. Munich: Prestel, 1960; Der Bauern-Bruegel. Munich/Leipzig, R. Piper & Co., G.m.b.H., 1910; Der nackte Mensch in der Kunst aller Zeiten und Völker. Munich: R. Piper, 1911; Rokoko; französische und deutsche illustratoren des achtzehnten jahrhunderts. Munich: R. Piper & Co., 1912; Die Kunst und die Gesellschaft. Munich: R. Piper & Co. 1916, Russian, Opyt sotsiologii izobrazitel’nogo iskusstva. Moscow: “Novaia Moskva”, Year: 1924; über Expressionismus in der Malerei. Berlin: E. Reiss, 1919; Vom Geist des Barock. Munich: R. Piper & Co., 1920; Bild und Gemeinschaft: Entwurf einer Soziologie der Kunst. Munich : K. Wolff, 1920; Giotto. Berlin: Propyläen-verlag 1923; Kunstgeschichte. Berlin: Deutsche Busch Gemeinschaft 1927; Fra Angelico. Munich: Kurt Wolff 1923, English, New York: E.P. Dutton, 1928; Kunstgeschichte. Berlin: Deutsche Busch Gemeinschaft, 1927; Barbaren und Klassiker: ein Buch von der Bildnerei exotischer Völker. Munich: R. Piper, 1922; Adolph Hildebrand. München-Pasing: Filser, 1947; and Reifenberg, Benno. Max Beckmann. Munich: R. Piper, 1949; Was bedeutet die moderne Kunst? Ein Wort der Besinnung. Leutstetten vor München: Verlag Die Werkstatt, 1949.


    Migge, Walther. Wilhelm Hausenstein. Wege eines Europäers. Marbach: Deutsches Literaturarchiv im Schiller-Nationalmuseum/Kösel in Kommission, 1967; Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Research Guide to the History of Western Art. Sources of Information in the Humanities, no. 2. Chicago: American Library Association, 1982, pp. 131, 153 mentioned; Hausenstein, Wilhelm, and Sulzer, Dieter, and Frank, Paul. Der Nachlaß Wilhelm Hausenstein: ein Bericht: mit einem unveröffentlichten Essay, Briefen und einer Erinnerung. Marbach am Neckar: Deutsche Schillergesellschaft, 1982; Bazin, Germain. Histoire de l’histoire de l’art; de Vasari à nos jours. Paris: Albin Michel, 1986, pp. 185, 341; Haxthausen, Charles W., “A Critical Illusion: ‘Expressionism’ in the Writings of Wilhelm Hausenstein.” in Rumold, Rainer, and Werckmeister, O.K. The Ideological Crisis of Expressionism: The Literary and Artistic German War Colony in Belgium 1914-1918. New York: Columbia University Press 1990, pp. 169-191; Werkmeister, O.K. “Wilhelm Hausenstein, the Leftist Promotion of Expressionism, and the First World War”, ibid., pp.193-217; Metzler Kunsthistoriker Lexikon: zweihundert Porträts deutschsprachiger Autoren aus vier Jahrhunderten. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1999, pp. 155-158; Rennert, Helmut H. Wilhelm Hausenstein: Ausgewählte Briefe 1904-1957. Oldenburg: Igel, 1999; Stonard, John-Paul. Art and National Reconstruction in Germany 1945-55. Ph.D. dissertation, University of London, 2004, p. 263; Werner, Johannes. Wilhelm Hausenstein: Ein Lebenslauf. Munich: Iudicium, 2005; “Wilhelm Hausenstein (1882-1957 [sic].” Wilhelm-Hausenstein-Gymnasium (webpage)

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen


    Lee Sorensen. "Hausenstein, Wilhelm." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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