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King, Georgiana Goddard

    Full Name: King, Georgiana Goddard

    Gender: female

    Date Born: 1871

    Date Died: 1939

    Place Born: West Columbia, Mason, WV, USA

    Place Died: Hollywood, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): architecture (object genre) and sculpture (visual works)


    Architectural historian of Spain, professor and founder, Department of Art, Bryn Mawr; early female US art historian. King was born the daughter of a railroad employee, Morris Ketchum King and raised in Norfolk, Virginia. Her mother, an educated woman with literary interests, died when King was ten. King and her brother and sisters were raised by their maternal aunt. She attended the Leach-Wood Seminary, a boarding school for girls in Norfolk catering to serious education. Her teachers encouraged her to attend Bryn Mawr, the first woman’s college to offer graduate degrees. She graduated in 1896 with a bachelor’s degree in English and, in 1897, a master’s degree in philosophy and political science. After a European trip and brief study at the Collège de France, she returned to teach English, philosophy and art at the Graham School, a private boarding school in New York, 1899-1906. During this time she wrote her first books, one on Shakespeare and one book of drama. In 1906 she returned to her alma mater to be a reader in English. Around 1909 or 1910 she was asked by Bryn Mawr President Martha Carey Thomas (1857-1935) to teach courses in Gothic and Renaissance art to be alternated with King’s comparative literature courses. Rightly surmising that her possibilities for promotion in the English Department were limited, King focused on art history. She was promoted to lecturer in 1911. That same year she resolved to learn photography in order to document works of art she studied. King founded a separate department of the history of art in 1913 in which the first graduate courses on Spanish art in the United States were offered. She knew the subject well, having re-edited between 1911 and 1914 Some Account of Gothic Architecture in Spain (1865) of George E. Street. She also taught a course in Asian art that year, the result of a student request. Several of her poems appeared in McClure’s at the same time. She advanced to full professor at Bryn Mawr in 1916. King taught without the aid of notes and in total darkness in order that students could not take notes, either. She lectured in her black academic robe long after the rule to do such was rescinded. Among the variety of art periods that interested her was the very most modern. Her friends included Leo and Gertrude Stein whose paintings by Picasso and Matisse she knew well. She taught courses in modern art as early as 1912, including the Cubist and Fauvist artists. King even contacted Alfred Stieglitz, the great exponent of modern art in America, for a course she was proposing in 1916. But it was her work in Spanish architectural history that won her acclaim. In 1917 she completed her most ambitious and best known book, The Way of St. James. The three-volume work traces the pilgrimage trails to the shrine of St. James (Santiago de Compostela). Drawing from the important scholarship of A. Kingsley Porter  (Lombard Architecture) and Chandler R. Post (Medieval Spanish Allegory), King’s book provided immense bibliographic review of the pertinent literature as well as publishing monuments not previously considered. Between 1912-15, King researched Pre-Romanesque Churches, the first of what she hoped would be a series on Spanish architecture. Although not published until 1924, it formed a survey of the buildings before those in the Way of St. James book. Her 1923 Sardinian Painting pre-dates Post’s work on Sardinian art. King expanded the Department of Art at Bryn Mawr in the 1920s, adding George Rowley as a second professor in the history of art. Toward the end of that decade, King invited Vienna school historian Josef Rudolf Thomas Strzygowski, then near retirement, to teach at Bryn Mawr. Strzygowski declined, suggesting his most capable student, the young Ernst Diez in his place. In the years that immediately followed, the Department would be the entry-level slot for some of the most eminent future art historians. These included Harold E. Wethey, Edward Stauffer King, Eddie Warburg, Richard Bernheimer, Alexander Soper and Joseph C. Sloane. Sloane succeeded King at head of the department in 1938. King left unfinished her nearly completed book on the art and architecture of Portugal. She suffered a number of strokes while researching it and died after her return to the United States in 1939. A manuscript completed in 1926, Heart of Spain, was completed by Agnes Mongan and published posthumously in 1941. Her ashes were deposited in the Library at Bryn Mawr. Her students included Leila Cook Barber, Marianna Duncan Jenkins, Katharine Bishop Neilson (d. 1977) and Marion Lawrence (1901-1978).

    King’s scholarship is highly synthetic, combining literature from many disciplines to form her art histories. The impression is sometimes overwhelming, a romantic travelogue rather than analysis. As may be characteristic of the era in which she wrote, she often tries too hard to find stylistic influences in order to construct a linear view of her topic. In 1914 Bernard Berenson characterized King as “the best equipped student of Italian art in the United States.” Together with A. Kingsley Porter, Walter Muir Whitehill and Chandler R. Post, Walter W. S. Cook, she constituted an early “New England School” of American interest in Spanish Romaneque studies (Cahn).

    Selected Bibliography

    revised and edited. Street, George E. Some Account of Gothic Architecture in Spain. 2 vols. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1914;  “Spanish Cloisters.” Journal of the AIA 7 (November 1919): 481-488; The Way of St. James. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1920; “Castles in Spain.” Journal of the AIA 10 (Septemer 1921): 377-382; Sardinian Painting. New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1923; Pre-Romanesque Churches of Spain. New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1924; “Some Churches in Galicia.” Art Studies 1: 55-64; and Mongan, Agnes. Heart of Spain. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1941.


    Saunders, Susanna Terrell. “Georgiana Goddard King (1871-1939): Educator and Pioneer in Medieval Spanish Art.” in Women as Interpreters of the Visual Arts, 1820-1979. Sherman, Claire Richter and Holcomb, Adele M., eds. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1981, pp. 209-238; Cahn, Walter. “Romanesque Art, Then and Now: A Personal Reminiscence.” in Hourihane, Colum, ed. Romanesque Art and Thought in the Twelfth Century: Essays in Honor of Walter Cahn. University Park, PA: Penn State Press, 2008, p. 33; [obituaries:] “Miss Georgiana King, A Retired Professor.” New York Times May 5, 1939, p. 28; Wethey, Harold. “American Pioneer in Hispanic Studies: Georgiana Goddard King.” Parnassus 11 (November 1939): 33-35.


    "King, Georgiana Goddard." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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