Langbehn, Julius

Full Name: 
Langbehn, Julius
Year Born: 
1851
Year Died: 
1907
Place Born: 
Hadersleben, Schleswig, Germany
Place Died: 
Rosenheim, Germany
Home Country: 
Germany
Overview: 
Professor and Rembrandt scholar; wrote a popular, racist attack of modern art and art museums. Langbehn studied art history and anthropology at the university in Kiel before receiving his doctorate at the in Munich. Among art historians who adopted Nietzschean values of art, perhaps the worst was Langbehn. Poorly educated and highly opinionated, Langbehn anonymously published a book in 1890 attacking modern art on racial grounds, a book which took the German art history world by storm. Rembrandt als Erzieher (Rembrandt as Educator), deplored the state of contemporary art production, suggesting that, Rembrandt, an example of the southern German "race," was part of a pure Volk least defiled by racial intermixing. It criticized museums as dead places of art, too bound by history to reflect art. Racial tracts were not uncommon in late-19th century European social and cultural though. Nevertheless, Langbehn's book attracted praise not only from the conservative right but, for various reasons, from a variety of important art historians of the period. Wilhelm von Bode (q.v.), the assembler of the vast Prussian art collections in Berlin, praised its ideal of the German spirit. The progressive architect and architectural theorist Hermann Muthesis (q.v.) cited it continuously in his reform articles. Even Karl Ernst Osthaus (q.v.), the future founder of the Folkwang-Museum, credited Langbehn as critical to his own development. Rembrandt als Erzieher when through some 66,000 in thirty-nine editions. Learning Nietzsche was in a mental institution in Jena, Germany, Langbehn traveled to the asylum to talk to him and his mother who was caring for him. Langbehn, who cultivated a mistrust of medical doctors, argued strenuously with both the philosopher and his mother to leave the facility until Nietzsche himself threw Langbehn out. Langbehn had been able to convince family friends that releasing the philosopher to him would lead to his cure (citing among other reason's the Jewishness of the institution's doctor). Had Langbehn not insisted on sole control of Nietzsche and his royalties fortune, he might have received permission. His attempt to free the master foiled, Langbehn now purported a hatred of Neitzsche's philosophy and converted to Roman Catholicism. Given how Langbehn perverted the German philosopher's writings, this may be truer than what many have seen. His subsequent book of poetry, 40 Lieder von einem Deutschen (Forty Poems of a German) ran into trouble with its erotic content. Langbehn died of stomach cancer in 1907. Rembrandt als Erzieher was praised by the Nazi's during the Third Reich and reprinted throughout the Second World War in Germany.
Selected Bibliography: 
Rembrandt als Erzieher, von einem Deutschen. Leipzig: C.L. Hirschfeld, 1890; 40 Lieder von einem Deutschen. Dresden: Verlag der Druckerei Glöss, 1891.
Sources: 
Stern, Fritz. "Julius Langbehn and Germanic Irrationalism," in The Politics of Cultural Despair. 2nd ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974, pp. 97-204; Sheehan, James J. Museums in the German Art World: From the End of the Old Regime to the Rise of Modernism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 142-43; Kultermann, Udo. The History of Art History. New York: Abaris, 1993, pp. 131-2.