Otto Benesch

Last updated

Otto Benesch (June 29, 1896 – November 16, 1964) was an Austrian art historian. He was taught by Max Dvořák and is considered a member of the Vienna School of Art History. He is well known for his catalogue of Rembrandt's drawings. In 1942 he was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship.

Austria Federal republic in Central Europe

Austria, officially the Republic of Austria, is a country in Central Europe comprising 9 federated states. Its capital, largest city and one of nine states is Vienna. Austria has an area of 83,879 km2 (32,386 sq mi), a population of nearly 9 million people and a nominal GDP of $477 billion. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Hungary and Slovakia to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the west. The terrain is highly mountainous, lying within the Alps; only 32% of the country is below 500 m (1,640 ft), and its highest point is 3,798 m (12,461 ft). The majority of the population speaks local Bavarian dialects as their native language, and German in its standard form is the country's official language. Other regional languages are Hungarian, Burgenland Croatian, and Slovene.

Max Dvořák Czech art historian

Max Dvořák was a Czech-born Austrian art historian. He was a professor of art history at the University of Vienna and a famous member of the Vienna School of Art History, employing a Geistesgeschichte methodology.

The Vienna School of Art History was the development of fundamental art-historical methods at the University of Vienna. This school was not actually a dogmatically unified group, but rather an intellectual evolution extending over a number of generations, in which a series of outstanding scholars each built upon the achievements of their forerunners, while contributing their own unique perspectives. Essential elements of this evolution became fundamental for modern art history, even if the individual methods can today no longer claim absolute validity.


Life and work

Benesch was the son of art collector Heinrich Benesch, an important patron of the Austrian artist Egon Schiele. [1] Being familiar with modern art from childhood, a personal acquaintance with Schiele left a lasting impression on him, [2] [3] which is also to be seen in several of his publications.

Egon Schiele Austrian painter

Egon Schiele was an Austrian painter. A protégé of Gustav Klimt, Schiele was a major figurative painter of the early 20th century. His work is noted for its intensity and its raw sexuality, and the many self-portraits the artist produced, including naked self-portraits. The twisted body shapes and the expressive line that characterize Schiele's paintings and drawings mark the artist as an early exponent of Expressionism.

From 1915 to 1921, Benesch studied art history, archaeology and philosophy at the University of Vienna mainly under Max Dvořák. In 1921 he wrote his PhD dissertation on the development of Rembrandt's drawing. From 1920 to 1923, he volunteered at the Art Gallery of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. In 1923, he became an assistant and later curator of the collection of the Albertina, where he classified the Rembrandt collection and also curated exhibitions. He lost this job during the Nazi era, because his wife was of Jewish ancestry. Therefore, in 1938, he emigrated to France, in 1939 to England, and in 1940 to the USA. From 1940 to 1947, he lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and worked at Harvard's Fogg Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts; at Princeton University; and in New York City. In Princeton, he was a member of the Institute for Advanced Studies. In 1947, he was appointed back to Vienna, where he served as Director of the Albertina and curated many important exhibitions. In 1948 he was also appointed extraordinary professor of art history. He retired in 1961.

Art history the academic study of objects of art in their historical development

Art history is the study of objects of art in their historical development and stylistic contexts; that is genre, design, format, and style. The study includes painting, sculpture, architecture, ceramics, furniture, and other decorative objects.

Archaeology, or archeology, is the study of human activity through the recovery and analysis of material culture. The archaeological record consists of artifacts, architecture, biofacts or ecofacts and cultural landscapes. Archaeology can be considered both a social science and a branch of the humanities. In North America archaeology is a sub-field of anthropology, while in Europe it is often viewed as either a discipline in its own right or a sub-field of other disciplines.

Philosophy intellectual and/or logical study of general and fundamental problems

Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Such questions are often posed as problems to be studied or resolved. The term was probably coined by Pythagoras. Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation. Classic philosophical questions include: Is it possible to know anything and to prove it? What is most real? Philosophers also pose more practical and concrete questions such as: Is there a best way to live? Is it better to be just or unjust? Do humans have free will?

Benesch's work focused on the graphic arts and Rembrandt. His further interests covered gothic art, the conservation of monuments, art theory and even musicology.

Benesch was an Officer of the Legion of Honor and was decorated with the Orders of Orange‐Nassau and Leopold II, and the Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art.

"Max Dvořák", he said, "introduced me to the strict and pragmatic spirit which regards the history of art as a historical discipline, far removed from all aesthetic assayism. The sole foundation of this scientific method of approach is the view that the work of art is a statement and the literary evidence its meaningfully interpreted source." [4]

He wrote of Rembrandt's religious convictions: "Life itself was something sacred to Rembrandt, independent of its religious or profane content. Life was to him, first of all, life of the soul, eloquence and expressiveness of man." [5]

Related Research Articles

Richard Krautheimer German art historian

Richard Krautheimer was a 20th-century art historian, architectural historian, Baroque scholar, and Byzantinist.

Franz Wickhoff Austrian art historian

Franz Wickhoff was an Austrian art historian, and is considered a member of the Vienna School of Art History.

WERGO is a German record label focusing on contemporary classical music. It was founded in 1962 by German-Argentinean art historian, jurist and professor Werner Goldschmidt (1903–1975) and the musicologist Helmut Kirchmeyer. Their first release, filed under "WER 60001", was Schoenberg's Pierrot lunaire, conducted by Pierre Boulez. The record company is owned by Schott Music, both based in Mainz, Germany.

Bruno Maria Adler was a German art historian and writer. He taught art history in Weimar and lectured about it at the Bauhaus. Adler fled Germany after the Nazis seized power and emigrated to England, where he worked first at a German-Jewish refugee school in Kent, then as a writer with the German Service of BBC Radio.

Fritz Grossmann, art historian. Born 26 June 1902 in Stanislau,, now Ivano-Frankivsk in the Ukraine, died 16 November 1984, Croydon, London; Deputy Director, Manchester City Art Gallery; Professor of Art History, University of Washington, Seattle.

Ludwig Goldscheider was an Austrian-British publisher, art historian, poet and translator who is known for founding the world-renowned Phaidon Press.

Kurt Badt German art historian

Kurt Badt was a German art historian.

Charles de Tolnay, born Károly von Tolnai, was a Hungarian art historian and an expert on Michelangelo. According to Erwin Panofsky, he was "one of the most brilliant art historians" of his time.

Hans Tietze was an Austrian art historian and member of the Vienna School of Art History.

Alma Stephanie Wittlin, Alma S. Wittlin, was an Austrian writer. Her surname also appears as Wittlin-Frischauer.

Ulrich Thieme was a German art historian. He was the son of the industrialist and art collector Alfred Thieme (1830–1906), brother of the publisher Georg Thieme (1830–1906) and grandfather of the painter Peter Flinsch (1920–2010).

Fritz Schwarz-Waldegg Austrian painter

Fritz Schwarz-Waldegg, originally Friedrich Schwarz was an Austrian Expressionist and Cubist painter of Jewish ancestry.

Werner Weisbach was a German-Swiss art historian.

Anna Spitzmüller Austrian art historian, curator and museum director

Anna Spitzmüller was an Austrian art historian, curator, and educator. She taught art history to generations of American college students through the Austro-American Institute of Education, and was the first woman curator in Vienna.

Edmund Hildebrandt was a German art historian.

Galerie St. Etienne art galleries in New York and France

Galerie St. Etienne is a Expressionism art gallery operating in the United States, founded in Vienna in 1923 by Otto Kallir as the Neue Galerie. Forced to leave Austria after the 1938 Nazi invasion, Kallir established his gallery in Paris as the Galerie St. Etienne, named after the Neue Galerie’s location near Vienna’s Cathedral of St. Stephen. In 1939, Kallir and his family left France for the United States, where he reestablished the Galerie St. Etienne on 46 West 57th Street in New York City. The gallery still exists, run by Otto Kallir’s granddaughter Jane and Hildegard Bachert on 24 West 57th Street. It maintains a reputation as a principal harbinger of Austrian and German Expressionism to the US.

Otto Kallir was an Austrian American art historian, author, publisher and gallerist. He was awarded the Silbernes Ehrenzeichen für Verdienste um das Land Wien in 1968.

Christian M. Nebehay was an Austrian art dealer, art collector and author. He became internationally known – particularly in the art world – for his works on Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele.


  1. Heinrich Benesch, Mein Weg mit Egon Schiele. New York 1965.
  2. Ulrike Wendland, "Benesch, Otto". In Biographisches Handbuch deutschsprachiger Kunsthistoriker im Exil: Leben und Werk der unter dem Nationalsozialismus verfolgten und vertriebenen Wissenschaftler. Munich: Saur, 1999, Vol. 1, p. 38.
  3. Isabell Kneidinger, "Egon Schiele und du". Egon Schiele Museum Tulln 2012.
  4. Otto Benesch, From the Scholar's Workshop. Cited in Ulrike Wendland, "Benesch, Otto". In Biographisches Handbuch deutschsprachiger Kunsthistoriker im Exil: Leben und Werk der unter dem Nationalsozialismus verfolgten und vertriebenen Wissenschaftler. Munich: Saur, 1999, Vol. 1, p. 38.
  5. Rembrandt: Selected Drawings, Volume 1, London 1947, p. 18.

Select publications

Further reading