The Jewish Modernist: Isaac Grünewald in Bertel Hintze's Art History

By Qvarnström, Ludwig | Journal of Art Historiography, December 2016 | Go to article overview

The Jewish Modernist: Isaac Grünewald in Bertel Hintze's Art History


Qvarnström, Ludwig, Journal of Art Historiography


'Not for nothing is Grünewald a Semite.' (Bertel Hintze)

With these words the Finnish art historian and chief curator Bertel Hintze (1901-1969) explained the 'oriental colourfulness' and captivating rhythm that was the foundation of the art by the 'incomparable talent' Swedish artist Isaac Grünewald (1889-1946), an artist who, according to Hintze, could even occasionally surpass his teacher Henri Matisse (1869-1954).1 This is one of several examples of Nordic avant-garde artists who are compared to the international avant-garde in Hintze's art historical handbook Modern konst: 1900-talet (Modern Art: Twentieth century), published in 1930. Hintze's characterization above clearly reveals traces of a racial and anti-Semitic rhetoric, but in Swedish and Finnish art historiography Hintze has never been discussed in relation to the contemporary anti-Semitic discourse.2 In this article, I will analyse the way in which Hintze includes and characterizes Isaac Grünewald into his modernist narration, and its relation to early twentieth century anti-Semitism. I use here the American sociologist Helen Fein's broad definition of anti-Semitism, as a term denoting a wide range of different historical manifestations of hostility towards Jews, in order to emphasize its historical continuity as a cultural phenomenon and to distinguish between different anti-Semitic manifestations on different levels.3

In Swedish and Finnish art historiography, anti-Semitism generally seems to be of almost no interest. Except for an article from 1988 by the art historian Lena Johannesson, where she analyses anti-Semitic caricatures in the Swedish fanatic radical press from 1845 to 1860, there are very few in-depth studies in the field.4 Within other fields of study the situation is different, although art, artists or art historians are seldom mentioned.5 The only existing extensive study that can be described as an analysis of an anti-Semitic visual culture in Sweden is written by the historian Lars M Andersson in his dissertation En jude är en jude är en jude...: representationer av "juden" i svensk skämtpress omkring 1900-1930 (A Jew is a Jew is a Jew.: representations of the 'Jew' in the Swedish comic press around 1900-1930) from 2000.6 Within a Finnish context, the historian of ideas Nils Erik Forsgârd describes a similar situation in Alias Finkelstein: Studier i antisemitisk retorik (Alias Finkelstein: Studies in Anti-Semitic Rhetoric) from 2002.7

Analysing art historical handbooks or survey texts is especially revealing when it comes to understanding the historical, ideological and aesthetic foundations of art history. Due to its condensed literary character, which is necessary for the genre, this literature probably most clearly states the dominating selection criteria and established ideas concerning epochs as well as individual artists.8 As with all historiography, this genre is subject to its own internal logic and structure, and is by no means free from discursively associated rhetoric.9 This makes Bertel Hintze's art historical handbook interesting as a focal point in an analysis of the influence of anti-Semitism on art historiography. Hintze's book is only one of numerous texts discussing Grünewald and his importance for Swedish modernism, though today it is a rather marginal text. But, that does not make the book less important; I will argue that Hintze's book, with its anti-Semitic rhetoric, is typical of the early reception of Grünewald's art. I will also argue that the book, published in 1930, is a good example of the way in which this anti-Semitic rhetoric managed to enter into 'normal' art historiography right at the moment when the early twentieth century Swedish avant-garde became institutionalized. In other words, this analysis is not only important for the understanding of the connection between art historiography and anti-Semitism in the early twentieth century, but can also become the starting point for an analysis of the way in which the anti-Semitic rhetoric affects later historiography. …

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