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Sir Ernst Hans Josef Gombrich, OM, CBE (30 March 1909 – 3 November 2001) was an Austrian-born art historian who spent most of his working life in the United Kingdom. He is the author of many works of art criticism and art history, including The Story of Art, a book regarded as one of the most accessible introductions to the visual arts.

Contents

Biography

The son of Karl Gombrich and Leonie Hock, Gombrich was born in Vienna, Austria-Hungary, into an assimilated bourgeois family of Jewish origin who were part of a sophisticated social and musical milieu. His father was a lawyer and former classmate of Hugo von Hofmannsthal and his mother, a distinguished concert pianist, had been a pupil of Anton Bruckner. She also knew Arnold Schoenberg, Gustav Mahler and Johannes Brahms. Rudolf Serkin was a close family friend.

Gombrich was educated at Theresianum Secondary School and at Vienna University before coming to Britain in 1936, where he took up a post as a research assistant at the Warburg Institute, University of London. In 1936, he married Ilse Heller, a pupil of his mother, and herself a pianist. Their only child, Richard, went on to become a noted Indologist and scholar of Buddhism, acting as the Boden Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford University from 1976 to 2004.

During World War II, Gombrich worked for the BBC World Service, monitoring German radio broadcasts. When in 1945 an upcoming announcement was prefaced by a Bruckner symphony written for Wagner's death, Gombrich guessed correctly that Hitler was dead and promptly broke the news to Churchill. He returned to the Warburg Institute in November 1945, where he became Senior Research Fellow (1946), Lecturer (1948), Reader (1954), and eventually Professor of the History of the Classical Tradition and director of the institute (1959–72). He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1960, made CBE in 1966, knighted in 1972, and appointed a member of the Order of Merit in 1988. He was the recipient of numerous additional honours, including Balzan Prize in 1985 for History of Western Art.

Gombrich was close to a number of Austrian émigrés who fled to the West prior to the Anschluss, among them Karl Popper (to whom he was especially close) and Friedrich Hayek. He was instrumental in bringing to publication Popper's magnum opus The Open Society and Its Enemies. Both had known the other only fleetingly in Vienna, as Gombrich's father served his law apprenticeship with Popper's father. They became lifelong friends in exile.

Work

Gombrich's first book, and the only one he did not write in English, was Eine kurze Weltgeschichte für junge Leser (A short history of the world for young readers), published in Germany in 1936. It was very popular and translated into several languages, but was not available in English until 2005, when a translation of a revised edition was published as A Little History of the World. He did most of this translation and revision himself, and it was completed after his death.

The Story of Art, first published in 1950 and currently in its 16th edition, is widely regarded as one of the most accessible introductions to the history of visual arts. Originally intended for adolescent readers, it has sold millions of copies and been translated into more than 30 languages.

Other major publications include Art and Illusion (1960), regarded by critics to be his most influential and far-reaching work, and the essays gathered in Meditations on a Hobby Horse (1963) and The Image and the Eye (1981). Other important books are Aby Warburg: An Intellectual Biography (1970), The Sense of Order (1979) and The Preference for the Primitive (posthumously in 2002). The complete list of his publications, E.H. Gombrich: A Bibliography, was published by Joseph Burney Trapp in 2000.

Bibliography (selection)

  • The Preference for the Primitive. Episodes in the History of Western Taste and Art. London: Phaidon 2002
  • The Uses of Images. Studies in the Social Function of Art and Visual Communication. London: Phaidon 1999
  • Topics of Our Time. Twentieth-Century Issues in Learning and in Art. London: Phaidon 1991
  • Reflections on the History of Art. Views and Reviews. Oxford: Phaidon 1987
  • Tributes. Interpreters of our Cultural Tradition. Oxford: Phaidon 1984
  • Ideals and Idols. Essays on Values in History and Art. Oxford: Phaidon 1979
  • The Sense of Order. a Study in the Psychology of Decorative Art. Oxford: Phaidon 1979
  • Aby Warburg, an Intellectual Biography. London: The Warburg Institute 1970
  • The Image and the Eye. Further Studies in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation. Oxford: Phaidon 1982
  • Studies in the Art of the Renaissance. London: Phaidon 1966 (also published as: Gombrich on the Renaissance.)
    • 1: Norm and Form.
    • 2: Symbolic Images.
    • 3: the heritage of Appelles.
    • 4: New Light on Old Masters.
  • Meditations on a Hobbyhorse and other Essays on the Theory of Art. London: Phaidon 1963
  • Art and Illusion. A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation. London: Phaidon 1960
  • The Story of Art. London: Phaidon 1950
  • Weltgeschichte von der Urzeit bis zur Gegenwart. Wenen: s.n. 1935 (also published as: Eine kurze Weltgeschichte für junge Leser. Von der Urzeit bis zur Gegenwart.) English translation: A Little History of the World.

Further reading

  • Richmond, Sheldon. Aesthetic Criteria: Gombrich and the Philosophies of Science of Popper and Polanyi. Amsterdam and Atlanta, GA: Rodopi, 1994. 152 pp. ISBN 90-5183-618-X.
  • Woodfield, Richard. Gombrich on Art and Psychology. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1996. 271pp. ISBN 0-7190-4769-2.
  • Trapp, J.B. E.H. Gombrich: A Bibliography. London, Phaidon 2000. ISBN 9780714839813
  • Gombrich, E.H.J. & Eribon, D. Conversations on Art and Science. New York: Abrams 1993 (also published as: A Lifelong Interest.)
  • Onions J. (ed.). Sight & Insight. Essays in honour of E.H. Gombrich. London: Phaidon 1994

External links

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