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Kris, Ernst

    Full Name: Kris, Ernst

    Other Names:

    • Ernst Kris

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1900

    Date Died: 1957

    Place Born: Vienna, Vienna state, Austria

    Place Died: New York, NY, USA

    Home Country/ies: Austria

    Subject Area(s): art theory, engravings (prints), gems (worked stones), goldwork (visual works), metal, metalwork (visual works), metalworking, prints (visual works), Renaissance, and Vienna School


    Second-Vienna-School authority on Renaissance gold work and engraved gems; a psychoanalyst who employed psychoanalytical approach to art history. Kris was the son of Leopold Kris, a lawyer, and Rosa Schick (Kris). Because a War coal shortage forced his Gymnasium (district 13) to reduce school hours, Kris heard his first college-level art history courses during mornings. After graduating in 1918, he entered the University of Vienna studying art history, archaeology and psychology. After an initial examination under Max Dvořák in 1919, he studied with Julius Alwin von Schlosser. Both Dvořák and Schlosser were key historians of the so-called second Vienna school of art history. Kris was a spectacular student under Schlosser, whom Kris recalled Schlosser as saying he was mein Urschüler (student most akin to him). In 1922, Kris wrote his dissertation under Schlosser, examining the interrelationship between renaissance art and science within two renaissance craftsmen, Bernhard Palissy (1510-1590) and Wenzel Jamnitzer (1507-1785). He joined the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna the same year as an unpaid assistant. In 1927 Kris was appointed a curator of sculpture and applied arts and married Marianne Rie, a physician and psychoanalyst, the daughter of Sigmund Freud’s physician, Oskar Rie (1863-1931). As a result, Kris became fascinated by psychological approaches to art. In 1928 he published his Meister und Meisterwerke der Steinschneidekunst in der italienischen Renaissance a major contribution to the history of engraved gems. During this time he met another important Schlosser student, E. H. Gombrich. Kris’ scholarship and close friendship with the director of sculpture, Leo Planiscig made him an international authority in renaissance metal arts. He and Paniscig rehung the Hapsburg collection of the Kunsthistorisches according to chronology and patronage, rather than my medium as it had been. Kris delivered two papers on the busts of sculptor Franz-Xavier Messerschmidt using psychoanalytic approaches, one for art historians and another for psychoanalysts. While still working on the catalog of the goldwork for the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Kris became an editor of Imago: Zeitschrift für Psychoanalytische Psychologie, a journal of applied psychoanalysis in 1933. He also began studying medicine and practiced psychoanalysis on his own. Kris reconnected with Gombrich, jointly researching caricature and facial expression in art (published in a abbreviated form in 1940). Kris also initiated a research project on the myth of the artist with Otto Kurz. As the alliance between Hitler’s Germany and Austria grew ever stronger, it was Kris who recommended Gombrich for a position at the Warburg Library, now in a temporary home in London, which Kurz would also later flee. Kris emigrated to England in 1938 as a psychoanalyst and later working for the British government as a translator of German radio broadcasts (as Gombrich did, too.) By 1940 Kris had secured a position at the New School for Social Research in New York. In America Kris researched and wrote principally on psychoanalysis. He published various articles on child psychology and was a visiting professor at Yale University School of Medicine. In 1952 he published Psychoanalytic Explorations in Art his last foray into art. A life-long heavy cigarette smoker, he suffered a second and fatal heart attack in 1957. He was cremated and his ashes scattered on his Connecticut property. His 1934 co-authored work on artistic myth was translated into English in 1979 as Legend, Myth and Magic in the Image of the Artist. Kris was described in an essay by Gombrich as the uomo universale. He was devoted to the teachings of Freud, whom he had known personally. Psychoanalytic Explorations in Art makes no pretense at popularizing Freud’s theories into art, which have in the hands of other historians become simple-minded extensions of Freud’s theories.

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation:] Die Verwendung des Naturabgusses bei Wenzel Jamnitzer und Bernhard Palissy. University of Vienna, 1922, published as, “Der ‘stil Rustique.'” Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien. Neue Folge I, 1926: 137-208; Meister and Meisterwerke der Steinschneidekunst in der italienischen Renaissance. Vienna: Anton Schroll, 1929; and Kurz, Otto. Die Legende vom Künstler: ein geschichtlicher Versuch. Vienna: Krystall-Verlag, 1934, English, Legend, Myth and Magic in the Image of the Artist: An Historical Experiment. Revised by Otto Kurz. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1979; Psychoanalytic Explorations in Art. New York: International University Press, 1952.


    Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Modern Perspectives in Western Art History: An Anthology of 20th-Century Writings on the Visual Arts. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971, p. 71; Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Research Guide to the History of Western Art. Chicago: American Library Association, 1982, p. 89 mentioned, 93; Gombrich, Ernst. “The Study of Art and the Study of Man: Reminiscences of Collaboration with Ernst Kris.” Tributes: Interpreters of our Cultural Tradition. Ithica, NY: Cornell University Press, 1984, pp. 220-233; Bazin, Germain. Histoire de l’histoire de l’art; de Vasari à nos jours. Paris: Albin Michel, 1986, p. 327; 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. 387-92.

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen


    Lee Sorensen. "Kris, Ernst." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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