Skip to content

Wescher, Paul

    Full Name: Wescher, Paul

    Other Names:

    • Paul Wescher

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 21 March 1896

    Date Died: 03 September 1974

    Place Born: Hohentwiel, Hegau, Baden-Württemberg, Germany [Wendland states Welschingen, Baden]

    Place Died: Pacific Palisades, CA, USA

    Home Country/ies: Germany


    Museum director of early J. Paul Getty Museum, 1953-1959. Wescher was the son of Paul Wescher, M.D., and Elsa Mez (Wescher). He attended a humanites Gymnasium in Freiburg, volunteering for World War I (fighting in field artillery) where he received his abitur in 1918. After the war studied art history, archaeology and literature in Freiburg and Munich beginning in 1919. Wescher studied under the major art historians of the time, including Heinrich Wölfflin, Paul Frankl and August Liembann Mayer, in Munich and then at Freibrug under Walter F. Friedländer and Hans Jantzen. He completed his dissertation under Jantzen in 1923 writing on an aspect of manuscript illumination before the fourteenth century. The same year he married a fellow art historian Hertha Wescher. Wescher initially worked as a volunteer at the Augustiner-Museum in Freiburg, 1919-1921 before securing a job as a curatorial assistant at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (State Museum in Berlin), 1924-1927, where his wife also volunteered. In 1927 he was appointed to the graphics collection cataloging Flemmish drawings, publishing a catalog, Beschreibendes Verzeichnis der Miniaturen Handschriften in 1931. His strong objection to Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 resulted in his leaving Germany on political grounds in 1934, moving to Paris. There he researched and worked as an art dealer through 1939. He moved to Campione am Lugano, Switzerland that year as a private scholar and teacher, writing books (most notibly, one on Renaissance Merchants) and as a commissioned author for the Basel publisher Holbein-Verlag. The couple divorced around this time. He published a major monograph on the French Renaissance painter Jean Fouquet, Jean Fouquet und seine Zeit in 1945. After the war, Wescher’s career would be inextricably connected to his friend, the former Detroit Institute of Art director Wilhelm Rheinhold Otto Valentiner. Valentiner had the Detroit Institute of Arts hire Wescher as a research associate at the Museum and Wescher immigrated to the United States in 1948. Wescher followed Valentiner as an assistant to Valentiner’s postions at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. There, Wescher was picked in 1953 to be the director of the art collection the Oklahoma billionaire J. Paul Getty (1892-1976) was assembling in Santa Monica, CA. The collection at that time amounted to mostly second-rate baroque artists because of Getty’s unwillingness to pay high prices for art, but a spectacular collection of French decorative art. He remarried again (Mary Wescher). He resigned from the Getty in 1959, working as a private researcher, curating exhibitions in the U.S., most notably, at the North Carolina Museum of Art under James B. Byrnes (where Valentiner had been its first director) and at the New Orleans Museum of Art. He died at his California home in 1974. His research on the art-thefts of Napoleon was published posthumously in 1976. Wescher was a scholar of Flemmish art though his principle book publication were in other areas. His book on Jean Fouquet was termed definitive by the Burlington Magazine. He was among the generation of “discovery art historians,” whose numbers included Wilhelm Bode, Max J. Friedländer, and Friedrich Winkler, scholars who through stylistic analysis compiled oeuvre catalogs of artists establishing a body of work (Otten).

    Selected Bibliography

    [complete bibliography:] Otten, Frank. “Bibliographie Paul Wescher.” Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Kunst. Cologne: Böhlau, 1979, pp. 233-236; [dissertation:] Die Anfänge der alttestamentarischen Bilderfolge in der westlichen Buchmalerei und ihre Dekorationssysteme bis rund 1300. Frieburg, 1924 (unpublished); [collected essays:] Otten, Frank, ed. Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Kunst. Cologne: Böhlau, 1979, [complete bibliography] pp. 233-236; Beschreibendes Verzeichnis der Miniaturen Handschriften und Einzelblätter des Kupferstichkabinetts der Staatlichen Museen, Berlin. Leipzig: J. J. Weber, 1931; Großkaufleute der Renaissance: in Biographien und Bildnissen. Frankfurt am Main: Prestel, 1940; Jean Fouquet und seine Zeit. Basel: Holbein-Verlag, 1945, English, Jean Fouquet and his Time. New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1947; La prima Idea: die Entwicklung der Ölskizze von Tintoretto bis Picasso. Munich: F. Bruckmann, 1960; Kunstraub unter Napoleon. Berlin: Mann, 1976.[Art collection] The Collection of Dr. and Mrs. Paul Wescher. La Jolla: Art Center in La Jolla, 1958.


    Otten, Frank. “Vorwort.” Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Kunst. Cologne: Böhlau, 1979, pp. ix-x; 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. 756-760; [obituaries:] “Paul Wescher.” Burlington Magazine 117, no. 862 (January 1975): 51-52; Jaarboek van het Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen (1974): 184.


    "Wescher, Paul." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

    More Resources

    Search for materials by & about this art historian: