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Sauerlandt, Max

    Full Name: Sauerlandt, Max

    Other Names:

    • Friedrich August Max Sauerlandt

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 06 February 1880

    Date Died: 01 January 1934

    Place Born: Berlin, Germany

    Place Died: Hamburg, Germany

    Home Country/ies: Germany

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

    Institution(s): Landeskunstschule Hamburg, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, Städtisches Museum für Kunst und Kunstgewerbe Halle, and Universität Hamburg


    Museum director and expert of decorative arts (especially ceramics and porcelain), expressionism, and museum concepts. Max Sauerlandt was born in 1880 to Max Saurelandt, a timber merchant, and Marie Plath (Sauerlandt). Sauerlandt was born into the Protestant faith. Growing up in Hamburg, he attended Matthias-Claudius-Gymnasium and received his abitur in 1898. He spent his first five semesters of study in Marburg and Berlin learning about classical philology, then the next four semesters in Munich and Berlin studying art history. His instructors were Heinrich Wölfflin, Karl Voll, Wesse, Adolph Goldschmidt, and Berthold Riehl. He finished his doctoral studies in 1903 in Berlin under Heinrich Wölfflin, and his dissertation was published under the title Die Bildwerke des Giovanni Pisano (The Pictorial Works of Giovanni Pisano) the following year. In 1904, he also played a minor role for a year as a collaborator on the Thieme-Becker Künstlerlexikon, a bibliographical dictionary of artists which was ultimately a decades-long research project. From 1905-1908, Sauerlandt was a trainee at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe in Hamburg under the director of the museum, Justus Brinckmann. He married Alice Schmidt, who was herself an art historian and student of Kӓthe Kollwitz, in 1907. After satisfactory completion of his training, he took the position of Director of the Städtisches Museum für Kunst und Kunstgewerbe in Halle, Germany. He remained in this role from 1908-1914, his chief contribution being the reorganization and supplementation of the disorganized holdings according to modern museum practice. Sauerlandt’s dedication to promoting modern art in Germany is evidenced by his acquisition of works from the progressive artists of the time, including Emil Nolde and Max Beckmann. From 1914-1918, Sauerlandt’s museum work was interrupted by his service in World War I. After his service, Sauerlandt succeeded Justus Brinckmann as the Director of the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe in Hamburg. There, similar to his time at the Städtisches Museum für Kunst und Kunstgewerbe, he reorganized the collections, refurbished the exhibition rooms, and acquired new works to add to the collection. His most noteworthy purchases were of contemporary graphic art and sculpture, including the works of Henry Moore and several German expressionist “Die Brücke” artists. At the museum, he also promoted Emil Nolde, Rolf Nesch, Missei Kogan, Gustav Heinrich Wolff, and Richard Haizmann. He was Director until 1933. In 1919, Sauerlandt was appointed an honorary professor for the history of arts and crafts at Universität Hamburg. During his time there, the art history department became the only one in Germany to have a focus of study on the applied arts. In 1922, Sauerlandt became the editor of the reports of the Justus Brinckmann Society in Hamburg. Sauerlandt became embroiled in a heated debate in 1926 when Paul Heise began his planning for the celebrations of the 700th anniversary of the city of Lübeck. In an effort to put on a grand exhibition, Heise acquired the loan of several original works by Lübeck artists, which was quite a triumph for the city since most were on display abroad. However, Heise used reproductions for the original pieces that could not be lent, infuriating Sauerlandt and his contemporaries from Hamburg. The debate is known as the Hamburger Faksimile-Streit (Hamburg facsimile dispute). Starting in 1930, he became the Director of the Landeskunstschule, a fine arts university, in Hamburg. He used his recognition to publish newspapers and magazines that promoted German contemporary art. In April of 1933, Sauerlandt took a leave of absence as museum director and was removed from office by the National Socialist Party as the Director of the Landeskunstschule for his open commitment to contemporary art. He actually harbored political sympathies for the Nazi Party, but his fight for reinstatement was ultimately futile. Because he still remained in his position at Universität Hamburg, Sauerlandt used the summer semester of 1933 to engage students in a number of lectures that were intended to warn of what was to come under a new regime. His lecture titles included “Art of the Last 30 Years” and “The Present Situation and the Task of Museums in the New State.” In November of 1933, he was removed from his office at Universitӓt Hamburg due to the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service. In 1934, Sauerlandt was the victim of a vicious cancer that took his life.

    Sauerlandt argued vigorously for the sole validity of the original art piece. He believed that in every copy, reconstruction, or forgery at least one crucial element of the viewing experience was lost. His polemic was mainly directed at facsimile reproductions, as is evidenced by the Hamburg facsimile dispute (Hüneke, Von der Verantwortung, p. 265). Sauerlandt was an authority on all matters of the museum of the present. His lectures at conferences and in the classroom provided material for discussion and informed the taste and judgement of the time. He changed the notion of the museum at the time and reached out to the public museum banners and posters in the urban space (Hüneke, Von der Verantwortung, p. 264). Sauerlandt used a number of Brinckmann’s principles in museum technique (Hüneke, Von der Verantwortung, p. 261). He also, however, staunchly promoted German contemporary art.

    Selected Bibliography

    • [dissertation:] Die Bildwerke des Giovanni Pisano Düsseldorf, Leipzig 1904;
    • Die blauen Bücher, Griechische Bildwerke Düsseldorf, Leipzig 1907;
    • Die blauen Bücher, Der stille Garten. Deutsche Maler der Ersten Hälfte des 19. Jahrhunderts Königstein, Leipzig 1908;
    • Die blauen Bücher, Deutsche Plastik des Mittelalters Königstein, Leipzig 1909;
    • Die blauen Bücher, Deutsche Plastik des Mittelalters Königstein, Leipzig 1909;
    • Die blauen Bücher, Michelangelo Königstein, Leipzig 1911;
    • Stätten der Kultur: Halle Leipzig 1913;
    • Jahresbericht der städtischen Museen Haue 1908-12;
    • Emil Nolde Munich 1921
    • Die blauen Bücher, Kinderbildnisse aus fünf Jahrhunderten der europäischen Malerei von etwa 1450 bis etwa 1850 Königstein, Leipzig 1921;
    • Norddeutsche Barockmöbel Elberfeld 1922;
    • Die blauen Bücher, Die Musik in fünf Jahrhunderten der europäischen Malerei. Etwa 1450 bis 1850 Königstein, Leipzig 1922;
    • Deutsche Porzellan-Figuren des 18. Jahrhunderts Cologne 1923;
    • Die blauen Bücher, Deutsche Bildhauer um 1900. Von Hildebrand bis Lehmbruck Königstein, Leipzig 1925;
    • Einheit des Künstlerischen: die deutschen Museen und die deutsche Gegenwartskunst 1925;
    • Die deutsche Plastik des 18. Jahrhunderts Munich 1926;
    • Werkformen deutscher Kunst. Vom Wesen der Kunst und der Kunstbetrachtung Königstein, Leipzig 1926;
    • Die blauen Bücher, Kleinplastik der deutschen Renaissance Königstein, Leipzig 1927;
    • Edelmetallfassungen in der Keramik Berlin 1929;
    • Festschrift zum 50jährigen Bestehen des Museums für Kunst und Gewerbe in Hamburg Hamburg 1929;
    • Drei Betrachtungen zur Stellung der Kunst in unserer Zeit, Das Sofabild oder die Verwirrung der Kunstbegriffe Hamburg 1930;
    • Drei Betrachtungen zur Stellung der Kunst in unserer Zeit, Original und Faksimilereproduktion Hamburg 1930;
    • Drei Betrachtungen zur Stellung der Kunst in unserer Zeit, Die deutschen Museen und die deutsche Gegenwartskunst Hamburg 1930.


    • Hüneke, Andreas “Von der Verantwortung des Museumsdirektors – Max Sauerlandt” Avantgarde und Publikum Hrsg. v. Henrike Junge. Köln, Weimar, Wien 1992, S. 261-268;
    • Metzler Kunsthistoriker Lexikon: zweihundert Porträts deutschsprachiger Autoren aus vier Jahrhunderten Stuttgart: Metzler, 1999, pp. 337-39;
    • 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. 581- 586;
    • Gosebruch, Martin “Sauerlandt und Klähns Kunst.” in Gädeke, Thomas, ed., Wolfgang Klähn und die Krise der Mondern/Wolfgang Klähn and the Crisis of Modern Art. Leipzig: E. A. Seemann, 2007, p. 138

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen and Paul Kamer


    Lee Sorensen and Paul Kamer. "Sauerlandt, Max." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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