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Schopenhauer, Johanna Henrietta

    Full Name: Schopenhauer, Johanna Henrietta

    Other Names:

    • Johanna Henrietta Schopenhauer

    Gender: female

    Date Born: 09 July 1766

    Date Died: 16 April 1838

    Place Born: Gdańsk, Pomeranian Voivodeship, Poland

    Place Died: Jena, Thuringia, Germany

    Home Country/ies: Germany

    Subject Area(s): biography (general genre), Netherlandish, and Northern European

    Career(s): art historians, authors, biographers, and novelists


    Novelist; first biographer of an art historian and one of the first art historians to write a monograph on Jan van Eyck. She was born in Danzig, Prussia which is present-day Gdańsk, Poland. Schopenhauer was born Johanna Henrietta Trosiener into a wealthy Danzig merchant family. Her father was Christian Heinrich Trosiener (b. 1730), a Danzig city councilor (senator) and her mother Elizabeth Lehmann (Trosiener). In an arranged marriage of 1785 Trosiener was married to a wealthy merchant friend of her father, Heinrich Floris Schopenhauer, she 18 and he 37. The couple had two children, Adele, who later collaborated on some of her writings, and Arthur Schopenhauer, the famous philosopher. The family traveled widely in England and France, and after the death (probably a suicide) of Heinrich, settled in Weimar in 1806 on the eve of the Battle of Jena. Her generosity to the (German) war victims of the city built a profound respect for her among the inhabitants. Though self educated, she began writing articles on paintings, particularly on Jan Van Eyck. She also started hosting bi-weekly soireés on literary matters that attracted the intellectual though non-aristocratic literati. These included the writer/philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the poet and novelist [Johann] Ludwig Tieck (1773-1853) and the poet Christoph Wieland ( 1733-1813). Most important for her art writing, the meetings also attracted the art historian August Wilhelm Schlegel and his brother, the art writer Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel. Through her friendship with the archaeologist/art historian Carl Fernow she taught herself art history. Fernow also urged her to allow her son to study what he wished at the Weimar Gymnasium. Ultimately she and her son grew apart, partially because of his famous pessimism. After Fernow’s death in 1808 she wrote his biography, Fernows Leben, the first book-length intellectual biography of an art historian, in 1810. Schopenhauer and her son broke completely in 1814 when her blamed her (probably rightly) for his father’s suicide. The publication of her travelogues meeting with success, she embarked on a career as a writer. Her two-volume art history on van Eyck, an early one on the artist, Johann van Eyck und seine Nachfolger, was published in 1821. Her fame rested on her novels, the most notable of which were Gabriele (1819), Die Tante (1823) and Sidonia (1827). Schopenhauer rose to become the most well-known woman writer in Germany by 1830. The following year Brockhaus published her collected works in 24 volumes. Her income as a writer could not keep up with her spendthrift habits, however and she lived with her daughter in Bonn as an economy. The pair’s finances continued to decline and she petitioned Karl Friedrich, Duke of Weimar who granted her a small pension in 1837 inviting her and her daughter to live in Jena. Schopenhauer moved to the city where she died the following year. A manuscript of her autobiography was left incomplete. Schopenhauer was the first German woman writer to publish books without a pseudonym. As an art historiographer, her book on Fernow became an important source of information on him and the age. Her account of Jan van Eyck and his followers is counted the beginning of modern scholarship on the van Eyck.

    Selected Bibliography

    Fernows Leben. Tübingen and Stuttgart: Cotta, 1810; Johann van Eyck und seine Nachfolger. 2 vols. [s.l.:s.n], 1821; and Schopenhauer, Adele. Jugendleben und Wanderbilder. 2 vols. Braunschweig: Verlag von George Westermann, 1839; Houben, H. H., ed. Damals in Weimar: Erinnerungen und Briefe von und an Johanna Schopenhauer. Berlin: Rembrandt, 1929; Holtei, Karl von, ed. Johanna Schopenhauer: Briefe an Karl von Holtei. Leipzig: Brockhaus, 1870.


    Weber, Rolf, ed. Johanna Schopenhauer: Ihr glücklichen Augen. Jugenderinnerungen; Tagebücher; Briefe. Berlin: Verlag der Nation, 1979; Pickett, T. H. “Johanna Schopenhauer.” German Writers in the Age of Goethe, 1789-1832. Dictionary of Literary Biography: 90 Detroit: Gale Research, 1989. pp. 299-302; Gilleir, Anke. Johanna Schopenhauer und die Weimarer Klassik: Betrachtungen über die Selbstpositionierung weiblichen Schreibens. New York: Olms-Weidmann, 2000; Bergmann, Ulrike. Johanna Schopenhauer: ‘Lebe und sei so glücklich als du kannst’. Cologne: DuMont, 2002; Stern, Carola. Alles, was ich in der Welt verlange : das Leben der Johanna Schopenhauer. Cologne: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 2003; Ridderbos, Bernhard. “From Waagen to Friedländer.” in, Early Netherlandish Paintings: Rediscovery, Reception, Research. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2005, pp. 218-251.

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen


    Lee Sorensen. "Schopenhauer, Johanna Henrietta." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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