Gründerzeit era art historian of survey art books. Muther studied in Heidelberg between 1877-78, and, after a tour of Italy, moved to Leipzig in 1881 where he studied under Anton Springer, writing his dissertation under Springer on the artist Anton Graff. Muther worked as a privatdozent in Munich, publishing his 1883 habilitation on illustrated Bibles. He secured a position as curator in the prints and drawings department of the Alte Pinakothek in Munich in 1885. Both he and Heinrich Wölfflin competed for the art-historian position at Munich, which was ultimately given to Berthold Riehl. Muther wrote for the local Münchner Neuesten Nachrichten paper where he vehemently criticized the provincial art scene as well as the art historians and critics Moritz Carrière and Friedrich Pecht. He published a private guide to the Alte Pinakothek and then the Berlin museum, Der Cicerone in der Gemadegalerie in Berlin, 1889, the latter of which its director, Wilhelm Bode, criticized as facile. In 1893-94 Muther issued his survey Geschichte der Malerei im 19. Jahrhundert (immediately translated into English and other languages) followed by other overviews of specific areas such as Belgian painting, British painting, etc. These books were among the first surveys of modern art in Europe and were praised by the writers Hugo von Hofmannstahl and his friend, Rainer Maria Rilke. Art historians such as Georg Dehio deplored them. Muther quickly became the popular spokesman for modern art. However, he did little primary research (he was rather anti-academic) on his artists and his books are full of mistakes and wandering personal interpretation. He was appointed professor of art history at Breslau (modern Wrocław, Poland) in 1895. His attempts to succeed Herman Grimm in Berlin were foiled and in 1896 the director of the Magdenburg art museum Theodor Volbehr and Seeman publishers accused him of plagiarizing their work which led to a formal reprimand in his position. Muther accused his detractors of Muther-hunting "Muther Hetze." Muther edited a series of pocket-sized histories of artists, the Sammlung illustrierter Monographien, gave Julius Meier-Graefe his first opportunity to write about French art. Muther adopted a sentimental style of writing, typical of the Gründerzeit (Germany's "Guilded Age"), an age of the foundation of modern Germany, and consolidation of bourgeois values. His writing style became particularly popular with art journalists. He wept in front of a Velázquez. No connoisseur, his student and friend Willy Uhde, reported him easily duped by forgeries. Kulterman writes that his writing exceeded the bounds of good taste and was unflatteringly confessional. His description of pictures focused on the lurid and erotic, as did the illustrations he used in his books. Muther focused mostly on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, terming it the age of "Alteherrenkunst" (old man's art). At his best, he was attuned to the cultural currents of the eras about which he wrote. He characterized the religious painting of Spain, for example as reflecting the dichotomies of the Spanish monarchy: Catholicism and absolutism.
[dissertation:] Anton Graff: ein Beitrag zur Kunstgeschichte des achtzehnten Jahrhunderts. Leipzig: E.A. Seemann, 1881; [habilitation:] Die ältesten deutschen Bilder-Bibeln: bibliographisch und kunstgeschichtlich. Munich: M. Huttler, 1883; Die deutsche Bücherillustration der Gothik und Frührenaissance: (1460-1530). Munich: Georg Hirth, 1884, English, German Book Illustration of the Gothic Period and the Early Renaissance (1460-1530). Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1972; Ein Jahrhundert französischer Malerei. Berlin: S. Fischer, 1901; Rosenhagen, Hans, ed. Aufsätze über bildende Kunst. 3 vols. Berlin: J. Ladyschnikow, 1914; Der Cicerone in der Gemadegalerie in Berlin. Munich: Hirth, 1889; Geschichte der Malerei. 5 vols. Leipzig: G. J. Göschen, 1899-1906, English, The History of Painting from the Fourth to the Early Nineteenth Century. 2 vols. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1907; Rembrandt: ein Künstlerleben. Berlin: E. Fleischel, 1904; Studien und Kritiken. Vienna: Wiener Verlag, 1900-1901; Geschichte der Malerei im 19. Jahrhundert. Published: München: G. Hirth, 1893-'94, English, The History of Modern Painting. 3 vols. London: Henry and Co., 1895-96.
Metzler Kunsthistoriker Lexikon: zweihundert Porträts deutschsprachiger Autoren aus vier Jahrhunderten. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1999, pp. 277-79; Kultermann, Udo. The History of Art History. New York: Abaris, 1993, p. 133; Uhde, Wilhelm. Von Bismarck bis Picasso: Erinnerungen und Bekenntnisse. Zürich: Verlag Oprecht, 1938, p. 95; Matthäi, Adelbert. "Muther und die deutsche Kunstwissenschaft: ein Beitrag zur Klärung der 'Muther-Hetze'." Die Grenzboten 55 (1896): 122-28; Schleinitz, Rotraud. Richard Muther: ein provokativer Kunstschriftsteller zur Zeit der Münchener Secession: die "Geschichte der Malerei im XIX. Jahrhundert": Kunstgeschichte oder Kampfgeschichte? Hildesheim: G. Olms, 1993; "Richard Muther." in, Hüttinger, Eduard and Boehm, Gottfried. Porträts und Profile: zur Geschichte der Kunstgeschichte. St. Gallen: Erker, 1992, pp. 22-56.