Cézanne and 19th-century art scholar, curator and museum director. Novotny was born into a Roman Catholic family, his father Franz Novotny, worked as a mechanic and his mother was Josefine Bartosch (Novotny). He studied under Josef Rudolf Thomas Strzygowski at Strzygowski's competing school of art history within the university in Vienna, the Wiener Institut. Novotny wrote his dissertation in 1927 on Romanesque sculpture and churches in Austria. He worked between 1928-39 as Assistant at the Kunsthistorischen Institut in Vienna. His Romanische Bauplastik in österreich established a strong interregional connection. Novotny, like a number of other Strzygowski students, was able to incorporate the rigorous research method of his mentor without the fanaticism, often racial in its conception, that marred his mentor's work. Novotny shied away from the broad generalizations. In 1939 he was appointed curator at the österreichische Galerie in Vienna. From 1948 onward he was professor at the University. After the war, he became director of the Galerie from 1961-68. During his tenure, Novotny worked to repatriate works of art added to the Gallery during the post-war period to their rightful owners, including works owned by Alma Mahler-Werfel (he was turned down by the Austrian Education Minister, Erwin Thalhammer). Despite his training in Romanesque art, most of Novotny's publications deal with modern artists because of his appointment at the österreichische Galerie. His book on Anton Romako redefined the artist as a precursor to Expressionism and Gustav Klimt. Novotny was a key figure for Modernism because of his analytical precision in the work of Cézanne. Cézanne und das Ende der wissenschaftlichen Perspektive (1938) placed the artist within an strong intellectual tradition. Novotny use painter's works to establish a criteria for an art historical process useful for the who era of modernism. That book is his clearest use of Strukturanalyse of the Vienna School to which his thought belongs. Novotny argued that Cézanne the tension between "scientific" or natural perspective and the artist's willful altering of it makes Cézanne a pivotal entity in Impressionism. His work influenced Meyer Schapiro and other Cézanne scholars. His Pelican History of Art volume, Painting and Sculpture in Europe 1780 to 1880, is notable for the way it treats artists as individual personalities, eschewing national characteristics less common to modern-era artists. The Pelican volume omitted Russian artists because Novotny did not consider Russia as part of Europe. Novotny emphasized the role that Idealism played in 19th-century Europe. Philosophy was key to Novotny; he used Kant (specifically the Critique of Pure Reason, [Kritik der reinen Vernunft]) to explain Cezanne's work. His emphasis of the intellectual milieu of artistic production was not at the cost of the artwork's formal aspects. Novotny was not a social historian, however. He avoided biographical and other documents when no direct connection could be made to the art.
Cézanne und das Ende der wissenschaftlichen Perspektive. Vienna: A. Schroll, 1938, excerpt, English, "Passages from Cézanne and the End of Scientific Perspective (1938)." The Vienna School Reader: Politics and Art Historical Method in the 1930s. Christopher White, ed. New York: Zone Books, 2000, pp. 379-433; Romanische Bauplastik in österreich. Vienna: Dr. B. Filser, 1930; Painting and Sculpture in Europe, 1780 to 1880. Pelican History of Art 20. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1960; Adalbert Stifter als Maler. Vienna: A. Schroll, 1941.
Metzler Kunsthistoriker Lexikon: zweihundert Porträts deutschsprachiger Autoren aus vier Jahrhunderten. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1999, pp. 285-7; The Vienna School Reader: Politics and Art Historical Method in the 1930s. Christopher White, ed. New York: Zone Books, 2000, pp. 378; Decker, Andrew. "A Legacy of Shame." Artnews 83 no. 10 (December 1984): 65.