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Popper, Leó

    Full Name: Popper, Leo

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1886

    Date Died: 1911

    Place Born: Budapest, Czechoslovakia

    Place Died: Gurbersdorf, Germany

    Home Country/ies: Hungary

    Subject Area(s): art theory, Dutch (culture or style), and Northern Renaissance


    Composer, painter, and art theorist; art historian of Dutch art, particularly Brueghel the Elder. Popper was the son of the cellist David Popper (1843-1913) and Sophie Menter (Popper) (1846–1918), a pianist and pupil of Franz Lizst. After graduating from high school in 1905, he initially attended the Musikakademie and the Akademie der Bildenden Künste. The following year he entered the painting school in Frauenbacher Romania. As a student he joined the artists group the Eight (Die Acht). Popper wrote essays on Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh, Auguste Rodin and Aristide Maillol, and analyses of folk art. However, 16th and 17th-century Dutch painting 16th remained his focus. In 1910 he published the first significant study of Pieter Bruegel the Elder. He contracted tuberculosis and died in 1911.

    Popper approached art history through an art theory he devised. His posited notions of a work’s visual center as key to understanding it. Lukács characterized Popper’s philosophy of art as “technology becoming metaphysics…The stone forces the sculptor, who also can not find nature, to the unity of what is created in the block, so that the will to chroma in the works of folk art becomes the mystical perfection of the hidden, lost, yet omnipresent sense.” (Nachruf) Popper never published book, partially because of his early death. He possessed both a command of contemporary Central European art-historical discourse as well as a precocious appreciation for issues of abstraction and mediality. Lukács and de Tolnay also openly acknowledged their debt to him. (Polonyi)

    Selected Bibliography

    “Peter Brueghel der Ältere 1520? – 1569.” [written, 1910, published]  Acta historiae artium Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae / Magyar Tudományos Akadémia 17 (1971): 6-10;  Schwere und Abstraktion. Brinkmann & Bose, Berlin 1987. (Selected essays)  Philippe Despoix und Lothar Müller, eds.


    Lukács, Georg . “Leo Popper (1886-1911). Ein Nachruf.” Pester Lloyd 58, No 289 (18. December 1911): 5-6. transcription link; Timár, Árpád, “The Young Lukács and the Fine Arts,” Acta Historiae Artium 34 (1989): 29–39; Born, Robert. “Budapest und der sozialgeschichtliche Ansatz in der Kunstgeschichte.” in Dietlind Hüchtker, Alfrun Kliem, eds. Überbringen – Überformen – Überblenden: Theorietransfer im 20. Jahrhundert. Vienna: Böhlau 2011, pp. 94–124;  Eszter Polonyi, personal correspondence, May 2018.


    "Popper, Leó." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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