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Reitlinger, Gerald

    Full Name: Reitlinger, Gerald

    Other Names:

    • Gerald Roberts Reitlinger

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 02 March 1900

    Date Died: 1978

    Place Born: London, Greater London, England, UK

    Place Died: St. Leonards, Dorset, England, UK

    Home Country/ies: United Kingdom

    Subject Area(s): economics


    Scholar of the artistic taste and so-called economics of taste. Reitlinger was born to Albert Reitlinger (1845-1924), a London banker and Emma Brunner (Reitlinger). He attended the Westminster school with (Sir) Roy Forbes Harrod (1900-78), later the prominent economist. Reitlinger served briefly in the infantry of the Middlesex regiment in World War I. Afterward, he studied at Christ Church, Oxford, where the archaeologist Edward Thurlow Leeds (1877-1955) of the Ashmolean Museum suggested he study cultural topics. Afterward he studied art at the Slade School and Westminster Art School in the 1920s and early 1930s intent on being an artist. His paintings were exhibited during this time in London. Between 1927-1929 he also edited the art journal Drawing and Design, a journal “devoted to art as a national asset.” After his father’s death in 1924, Reitlinger and his brother were left the bulk of the large family estate, allowing both to be independently wealthy.  In the late 1920s he travelled to New York and Tahiti as inspiration for his painting career.  He participated in two excavations, the Field Museum (Chicago)-sponsored one at Kish (modern Iraq) in 1930-1931, and a second Oxford one he co-directed with David Talbot Rice at Hira in 1932. He appears in Robert Byron’s account of that excursion (The Station, 1928) as the character “Reinecker”. From these he built his collection of Syrian and Persian pottery of the Timurid, Isnik, and Safavid periods. Reitlinger wrote several non-fiction works during this time, A Tower of Skulls, in 1932, on his travels to Armenia and the middle east, and South of the Clouds on Yunan province, China, in 1939. The same year he married Dorothy Jardas (1900?-1951).  He served in again in World War II and in the gunnery battery and lectured to the troops. He was discharged from service because of ill-health. . After a divorce in 1939,  he remarried a second time to an independently wealthy widow, Eileen Anne Graham Bell, (born, Eileen Bilbrough), (1909-2001), working as a literary agent. After the war he began writing articles for art journals and articles on art for newspapers. The prestige and the art world luster allow Reitlinger tohold evening parties during these years, entertaining the fashionable of post-war Britain. He turned to writing about Nazi Germany and issues of the Holocaust, beginning with The Final Solution in 1953 and The SS: Alibi of a Nation in 1956. In 1960, Reitlinger published the first volume of his examination of the art market in eighteenth century France, The Economics of Taste, in part through his interest and experience of art collecting. Reitlinger was an avid and astute collector of Asian and Islamic pottery, notably Japanese Kakiemon ware, and seventeenth-century Chinese ceramics. His large porcelain collection was damaged by fire shortly before his death. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage at a House Nursing Home in St. Leonards, Sussex. The collection was willed to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford where it forms the Gerald Reitlinger Gallery.

    Reitlinger was neither a trained art historian nor economist.  His economic treatment of the history of modern art is really a book on taste. Although the interest in art economics can rightly be traced from his groundbreaking books, they are not filled with market data like contemporary art market analysis. Instead, Reitlinger disparages the degradation of taste in the modern era, which he attributed to a redistribution of wealth in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He forecasted that in the future, only governments would be able to patronize artists due to inflated prominence of artistic personalities.

    Selected Bibliography

    The Economics of Taste. 3 vols. London: Barrie and Rockliff, 1961-70, vol. 1 The Rise and Fall of Picture Prices, 1760-1960, volume. 2. The Rise and Fall of Objets d’art Prices Since 1750, volume. 3. The Art Market in the 1960’s; The Final Solution: the Attempt to Exterminate the Jews of Europe, 1939-1945. New York: Beechhurst Press, 1953; The House Built on Sand; the Conflicts of German Policy in Russia, 1939-1945. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson [1960; South of the Clouds: a Winter Ride through Yün-nan. London: Faber & Faber, 1939; The SS, Alibi of a Nation, 1922-1945. London, Heinemann, 1956; A Tower of Skulls: a Journey through Persia and Turkish Armenia. London: Duckworth, 1932.


    Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Modern Perspectives in Western Art History: An Anthology of 20th-Century Writings on the Visual Arts. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971, p. 89 cited; Lord Bullock. “Gerald Reitlinger: a Portrait.” in Eastern Ceramics and Other Works of Art from the Collection of Gerald Reitlinger: Catalogue of the Memorial Exhibition. Oxford: Ashmolean Museum ; London: Sotheby Parke Bernet, 1981, pp. 9-11; Byron, Robert. The Station, Athos: Treasures and Men. New York: Knopf, 1928; Powell, Anthony. Messengers of Day. London: Heineman, 1978, pp.171-181; [obituaries and addenda:] “Mr Gerald Reitlinger.” The Times [London], March 11, 1978, p. 14; Powell, Anthony. “Mr Gerald Reitlinger .” The Times (London) March 17, 1978,; p. 20; D. P. [Dilys Powell?] “Mr Gerald Reitlinger.” The Times (London) March 21, 1978, p. 16; David A. Berry, “Reitlinger, Gerald Roberts (1900-1978).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004.

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen


    Lee Sorensen. "Reitlinger, Gerald." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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