Vincenc Kramár, 'Obituary of Franz Wickhoff'1

Article excerpt

Translator's introduction

Vincenc Kramár (1877-1960) was one of the first Czech art historians to have studied in Vienna. Between 1899 and 1901 he attended lectures by Franz Wickhoff, Alois Riegl and Julius Schlosser, and during this time he befriended Max Dvorák. Like his Viennese colleagues, Kramár's scholarly interests were far reaching and included research into the art of the Middle Ages, Baroque art, as well as nineteenth-century and modern painting, especially Cubism, which he promoted extensively in Bohemia and later in Czechoslovakia. His book Kubismus (1921) is believed to have been the first theoretical text on this topic written by an art historian.2 Kramár also became an important collector of art from these periods and became a close associate of the French art collector and dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Alfred Flechtheim, the Berlin based art dealer and Carl Einstein, the German art historian and critic with whom he exchanged many letters and works of art. In 1919 Kramár was appointed director of the Picture Gallery in Prague, which eventually became the National Gallery.

Kramár's obituary is also the first attempt at a concise summary of the methodological and theoretical premises of both Wickhoff and Riegl, and the first document where these scholars are referred to as a 'School.' Dvorák complimented Kramár on his text in a letter to him: 'Your obituary of Wickhoff pleased me very much, it is the best that has yet been written. It is a shame that you never write anything for us, it is a sin against the Holy Ghost.'3 However, written in Czech, the obituary had little impact on contemporary scholars who did not speak the language.

Pondering over Wickhoff's legacy, which he saw mainly in terms of his influence on his students through his lectures and not in terms of his published work, Kramár focused on his teacher as well as on the entire school. Kramár identified the basic theoretical and methodological approaches associated with the School, which he saw in for example the attention to genetic links between artworks and the idea of the universal development of art or the 'objective' study of works of art. Naming Niebuhr and Theodor von Sickel as key influences on Wickhoff and Riegl, he firmly rooted the Vienna School in historical scholarship. It is notable, too, that Kramár emphasised Wickhoff's personal artistic preferences and the extent to which they informed his work; this ran completely counter to the argument, famously put forward by Riegl and, before him, Thausing, that aesthetic taste should have no role in art history.

Franz Wickhoff

On 6 April, the Viennese Professor of the history of art, Franz Wickhoff (*f853) passed away in Venice. The deceased was born a man of considerable refined artistic taste who refused to be bound by period theories and who was open to all truly artistic impressions; he was a scholar of high intellect and, at the same time, an utterly temperamental individual. No wonder he greatly influenced the development of scholarship. He and his colleague, the recently deceased Prof. Alois Riegl (1858-1905), are the very founders of the Viennese art historical school that today occupies the leading place in the field. Although the School's early days can be seen in the work of Thausing and, to an extent, in that of Eitelberger, it was Wickhoff and Riegl who gave it a concise physiognomy. Because of them, Vienna became the centre of all progressive efforts that aimed at putting an end to dilettantism and superficiality that had been prominent in the study of the visual arts in the previous decades and that, in contrast to the exaggerated emphasis on iconography, facts and other secondary issues, put the main emphasis back on the intrinsic artistic content of the works. Individual attempts in this regard had already been carried out here and there a long time ago. Let me mention, for example, the ground-breaking discoveries of Giovanni Morelli, the writings of K. …