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Raphaël, Max

    Full Name: Raphaël, Max

    Other Names:

    • Max Raphael

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 27 August 1889

    Date Died: 14 July 1952

    Place Born: Trsziank, Greater Poland Voivodeship, Poland

    Place Died: New York, NY, USA

    Home Country/ies: Germany

    Subject Area(s): Modern (style or period)


    Modernist art historian of Marxist methodology; professor in the Berlin Volkhochschule. Little is known about Raphaël’s early life. He was born in Schönlanke, Prussia, which is present-day Trsziank, Poland. His parents were Jewish, his father’s last name was Schneider; his mother died in 1900 when Raphaël was 11. After graduating from high school in Berlin, he studied jurisprudence and political economy with Gustav von Schmoller (1838-1917) in Berlin and with Lujo Brentano (1844-1931) in Münich. He began taking courses in Berlin in sociology under Georg Simmel (1858-1918), art history under Émile Mâle and philosophy under Henri-Louis Bergson (1859-1941) in Paris and art history again under Heinrich Wölfflin in Munich. In Munich he also encountered German Expressionist artists Paul Klee, Franz Marc, of the Blaue Reiter and August Macke, and Max Pechstein of Die Brücke. His Paris travel in 1911 led to the acquaintance of Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Auguste Rodin. Enthused by French art, he returned to Munich to write his thesis–not accepted by Wölfflin–in 1913 on the development of modern art from Monet to Picasso. As a book, it went through three editions before 1919. His attempts at graduation thwarted, Raphaël moved to Bodman am Bodensee, Germany, working as an independent writer. He began developing a sociological theory to interpret art history. Raphaël entered the German army in 1915 to fight in World War I, deserting in 1917 and fleeing to Switzerland. He resumed writing, but was expelled from Switzerland in 1920, resettling in Berlin. An art primer, Idee un Gestalt, written in 1919, appeared in 1921. In 1924, Raphaël was appointed professor at the Volkhochschule in Berlin, teaching laboring men and women art history and occasional courses in mathematics and biology. His art lectures from his courses were posthumously published as The Demands of Art. Raphaël’s courses were imbued with his particular brand of Marxist and sociological methodology. During this time he published articles and a book on the doric temples in 1930. The rise of the Nazi party and their staunch anti-communist, anti-semitic policies caused him to flee Germany. Initially he returned to Switzerland in 1932, then France in 1933, working on his essay “Empirischen Kunstwissenschaft” (The Empirical Study of Art) and publishing his best known book, Proudhon, Marx, Picasso: trois études sur la sociologie de l’art, the same year. He pursued this topic with the art historian and fellow Wölfflin student Hanna Levy Deinhard (1912-1984). In 1940 after the German occupation of Paris, Raphaël was interned at the camp at Gurs. He married Emma Dietz in 1941 and was moved to the camp at Les Milles, Aix-en-Provence. The same year he slipped into Barcelona and then Lisbon where he was able to emigrate to the United States, his wife remaining in the Gurs internment camp until 1945. After the war, the couple reunited and they both lived off of her meager earnings as an office cleaner. In New York, Raphaël studied principally early ancient art and authoring a manuscript on the rise of German industry. He published a book on cave painting in 1945 and another on Egyptian pottery in 1947. Raphaël committed suicide in 1952 in New York.

    As an art historian, Raphaël’s reputation was built on his large posthumous publication and reprint legacy. He became the model for Marxist art historians of the later twentieth century (Doy). His methodology was based on what he considered a scientific (“empirical”) approach to art rather than a sociological one (Tagg). He asserted that everything necessary to analyze the work of art could (and should) be gleaned from the elements in the picture alone. This visual reading, however, was not formalistic. Raphaël’s visual reading was imbued with the implicit actions of the figure and subject from a psychological and class-based criteria of the subject and viewer. This approach was “inside-out” dialectics from contemporary Marxist esthetic theory (Truitt). This phenomenological view of artistic comprehension Raphaël derived from the writings of Husserl. Art, he insisted, had to be be viewed (“reconstructed”) anew without background context or facts. Later art historians admired his approach for taking the object itself as the starting point to analysis and mapping to a cultural context secondary. Raphaël’s Marxism was primarily intellectual; he was not politically engaged, believing that his writings could change society (Doy). Apropos to his keeping esthetics and social context separate, his book The Demands of Art was envisioned in two parts: the first, a detailed analysis of works of art and a second (never completed), to deal with the economic/historic framework. Raphaël’s legacy is that he fused a Marxist dialectic with sociology, political economy, art history, and philosophical aesthetics into a single methodology. Socialist countries ignored his work (except for Poland and Bulgaria) because his theory was not compatible with official Socialist Realism. In the United States, the art historian Hanna Deinhard adopted his methodology in her 1970 work Meaning and Expression and John Berger dedicated his book The Success and Failure of Picasso (1965) to Raphaël.

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation:] Von Monet bis Picasso: Grundzüge einer Àsthetik und Entwicklung der modernen Malerei. Munich, 1913; Der dorische Tempel (dargestellt am Poseidontempel zu Paestum). Augsburg: Dr. B. Filser, 1930; Proudhon, Marx, Picasso; trois études sur la sociologie de l’art. Paris; Éditions Excelsior, 1933, English,  Proudhon, Marx, Picasso. Three Studies in the Sociology of Art. New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1980; [manuscript] “Wie ein Kunstwerk gesehen sein will.” and Empirische Kunstwissenschaft.” 1932, English, The Demands of Art. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1968; Prehistoric Cave Paintings. New York: Pantheon Books, 1945; Prehistoric Pottery and Civilization in Egypt. New York: Pantheon Books, 1947.


    Truitt, Willis. “Towards an Empirical Theory of Art: A Retrospective Comment on Max Raphael’s Contribution to Marxian Aesthetics.” British Journal of Aesthetics 11 no. 3 (Summer 1971): 227-236; Tagg, John. “Introduction [on Max Raphael].” in Raphaël, Max. Proudhon, Marx, Picasso. Three Studies in the Sociology of Art. New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1980; Bazin, Germain. Histoire de l’histoire de l’art: de Vasari à nos jours. Paris: Albin Michel, 1986, p. 340; Doy, Gen. Materializing Art History. New York: Berg, 1998, pp. 87-92; Metzler Kunsthistoriker Lexikon: zweihundert Porträts deutschsprachiger Autoren aus vier Jahrhunderten. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1999, pp. 314-17; Wendland, Ulrike. Biographisches Handbuch deutschsprachiger Kunsthistoriker im Exil: Leben und Werk der unter dem Nationalsozialismus verfolgten und vertriebenen Wissenschaftler. Munich: Saur, 1999, vol. 2, pp. 529-535; Doy, Gen. “A Social or a Socialist History of Art?” in Materializing Art History. New York: Berg, 1998, pp. 87-92; Hemingway, Andrew, ed. Marxism and the History of Art: from William Morris to the New Left. Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto, 2006;


    "Raphaël, Max." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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