Museum director for the Städtischen Museum, Erfurt; staunch advocate for modern art, despite its contreversial nature under the Nazi Party in the 1920s and 1930s. Kunze was born in Staßfurt, Germany, to parents Gustav Kunze, a teacher, and Anna Beyer (Kunze). His formal education began in Haldensleben, where he received his Abitur in 1917 from the local gymnasium. In 1917, Kunze began studying at universities in Munich, Leipzig, and Halle, where he studied law, before ultimately switching to art history. His professors included Heinrich Wöfflin, Paul Frankl, Kurt Gerstenberg, and Wilhelm Pinder. Kunze’s college experience was interrupted for a year and a half due to his completion of military service during the First World War. He returned to school afterwards. At university in Halle in 1923, he completed his PhD in art history under Frankl. His dissertation titled Die Erfurter Plastik in der 2. Hälfte des 14. Jahrhunderts (The Sculpture of Erfurt in the 2nd Half of the 14th Century) was thus also published.
In 1925, Kunze published many scholarly works on sculpture, including Die Plastik des 14th Jahrhunderts in Sachsen und Thüringen (The Sculpture of the 14th Century in Saxony and Thuringia), Die gotische Skulptur in Mitteldeutschland (The Gothic Sculpture in Central Germany), and Die mittelalterliche Plastik im Oldenburger Landesmuseum (The medieval sculpture in the Oldenburg State Museum).
During this same year, Kunze became the Director of the Angermuseum in Erfurt, succeeding Edwin Redslob and Walter Kaesbach. At the Angermuseum, Kunze paid great attention to the care of the medieval art collection, consisting of works from Erfurt and Thuringia. His scholarly publishing then focused on the art and material culture of Erfurt, for which the museum was dedicated. A general work on Erfurt, Erfurt, appeared in 1928 followed the following year by one of the arts and crafts of the city, Das Erfurter Kunsthandwerk. In the early 1930s he wrote catalogs on the Erfurt cathedral museum (Das neue Dommuseum in Erfurt) and one on landscape painters in the Angermuseum (Landschaftsmalerei des 19. Jahrhunderts. Eine Führung durch das Erfurter Museum).
At the Angermuseum, Kunze’s most notable and controversial contribution was leading the expansion of the institution’s considerable modern collection, begun by his predecessors. During this time period, modern art was controversial. The Nazi party, who assumed power in Germany in 1933, considered the German Expressionist art degenerate (calling it un-German). Despite this, Kunze continued to purchase modern works as director until 1936. Because of his active engagement with modern art, Kunze was subsequently dismissed from his position at the Angermuseum in 1937. In that same year, the Nazi regime began their “Degenerate Art” campaign, and confiscated 591 works of art from Angermuseum. He was succeeded at the museum by Magdalene Rudolph (1901-1992) whom he married in 1942. Kunze kept an exceedingly low profile during this time.
In 1945, Kunze resumed his position as the Director of the Angermuseum. Upon returning, he commenced the reconstruction of the modern collection that had been destroyed by National Socialists. Erfurt, now in East Germany under communist control, had similar (though less violent) views on Expressionist art. He documented his experiences re-assembling the Museum collection in his Restaurierung von Museumsgut (Restoration of Museum Property, 1951). Kunze's insistence of modern art's importance ultimately led to his dismissal at the museum a second time in 1963. He died in his native city at eighty years old.
- Das Erfurter Kunsthandwerk. Erfurt 1929;
- "Das neue Dommuseum in Erfurt." In, Jahrbuch der Denkmalpflege in der Prov. Sachsen und in Anhalt. 1933/34, pp. 103-109;
- Die Erfurter Plastik in der 2. Hälfte des 14. Jahrhunderts, Halle, 1923;
- Die gotische Skulptur in Mitteldeutschland.. Bonn, 1925;
- "Die mittelalterliche Plastik im Oldenburger Landesmuseum." Oldenburger Jahrbuch 1925;
- Die Plastik des 14th Jahrhunderts in Sachsen und Thüringen. Berlin 1925;
- Erfurt. Berlin 1928;
- "Landschaftsmalerei des 19. Jahrhunderts. Eine Führung durch das Erfurter Museum." In Die Akademie gemeinnütziger Wissenschaften zu Erfurt. New Series 521(935): 144-145;
- Restaurierung von Museumsgut. In: Das Museum ist eine Bildungsstätte ersten Ranges. Erfurt 1951, pp. 21-27;
- 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. 351-355.
- Nowak, Cornelia. "Herbert Kunze." in Herrbach, Ernst, ed. Der Erfurter Kunstverein: zwischen Avantgarde und Anpassung: eine Dokumentation von 1886 bis 1945. Erfurt: Angermuseum, 2009, p. 224.