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Reitlinger, Gerald [Roberts]

Date born: 1900

Place Born: London, United Kingdom

Date died: 1978

Place died: St Leonards, Sussex, United Kingdom

Scholar of the economics of art.  Reitlinger was born to Albert Reitlinger, a London banker and Emma Brunner (Reitlinger).  He attended the Westminster school with (Sir) Roy Forbes Harrod (1900-78), later the prominent economist.  He served briefly in the Middlesex regiment in World War I.  Afterward, he studied at Christ Church, Oxford, where the archaeologist Edward Thurlow Leeds (1877-1955) of the Ashmolean Museum suggested he study cultural topics.  Afterward he studied art at the Slade School and Westminster Art School in the 1920s and early 1930s intent on being an artist. His paintings were exhibited during this time in London. Between 1927-29 he also edited the art journal Drawing and Design, a journal "devoted to art as a national asset."  He participated in two excavations, the Field Museum (Chicago)-sponsored one at Kish (modern Iraq) in 1930-31, and a second Oxford one he co-directed with David Talbot Rice (q.v.) at Hira in 1932. He appears in Robert Byron's account of that excursion (The Station, 1928) as the character "Reinecker". From these he built his collection of Syrian and Persian pottery of the Timurid, Isnik, and Safavid periods.  Reitlinger wrote several non-fiction works during this time, A Tower of Skulls, in 1932, on his travels to Armenia and the middle east, and South of the Clouds on Yunan province, China, in 1939. He served in again in World War II and in the gunnery battery and lectured to the troops.  He was withdrawn because of ill-health.  Reitlinger married Dorothy Jardas (1900?-1951), but was soon divorced.  In 1945 he remarried and independently wealthy widow, Eileen Anne Graham Bell (b. 1909/10). After the war he began writing articles for art journals and articles on art for newspapers.  Reitlinger entertained in evening parties during these years, entertaining the fashionable of post-war Britain.  He turned to writing about Nazi Germany and issues of the Holocost, beginning with  The Final Solution in 1953 and  The SS: Alibi of a Nation in 1956. In 1960, Reitlinger  published the first volume of his examination of the art market in eighteenth century France, The Economics of Taste. Reitlinger was an avid and astute collector of Asian and Islamic pottery, notably Japanese Kakiemon ware, and seventeenth-century Chinese ceramics.  His large porcelain collection was damaged by fire shortly before his death. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage at a House Nursing Home in St Leonards, Sussex.  The collection was willed to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford where it forms the Gerald Reitlinger Gallery.

Reitlinger's economic treatment of the history of modern art is really a book on taste.  Although the interest in art economics can rightly be traced from his groundbreaking books, they are not filled with market data like contemporary art market analysis.  Instead, Reitlinger disparages the degradation of taste in the modern era, which he attributed to a redistribution of wealth in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  He forecasted that in the future, only governments would be able to patronize artists due to inflated prominence of artistic personalities.

Home Country: United Kingdom

Sources: Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Modern Perspectives in Western Art History: An Anthology of 20th-Century Writings on the Visual Arts. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971, p. 89 cited; Lord Bullock. "Gerald Reitlinger: a Portrait." in  Eastern Ceramics and Other Works of Art from the Collection of Gerald Reitlinger: Catalogue of the Memorial Exhibition. Oxford: Ashmolean Museum ; London: Sotheby Parke Bernet, 1981, pp. 9-11; Byron, Robert. The Station, Athos: Treasures and Men. New York: Knopf, 1928; Powell, Anthony. Messengers of Day.  London: Heineman, 1978, pp.171-181;  [obituaries and addenda:] "Mr Gerald Reitlinger." The Times [London], March 11, 1978, p. 14; Powell, Anthony. "Mr Gerald Reitlinger ." The Times (London) March 17, 1978,; p. 20; D. P. [Dilys Powell?] "Mr Gerald Reitlinger." The Times (London) March 21, 1978, p. 16; David A. Berry, "Reitlinger, Gerald Roberts (1900-1978)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004.

Bibliography: The Economics of Taste. 3 vols. London: Barrie and Rockliff, 1961-70,  vol. 1 The Rise and Fall of Picture Prices, 1760-1960, volume. 2. The Rise and Fall of Objets d'art Prices Since 1750, volume. 3. The Art Market in the 1960's; The Final Solution: the Attempt to Exterminate the Jews of Europe, 1939-1945.  New York: Beechhurst Press, 1953; The House Built on Sand; the Conflicts of German Policy in Russia, 1939-1945. London:  Weidenfeld and Nicolson [1960; South of the Clouds: a Winter Ride through Yün-nan.  London: Faber & Faber, 1939; The SS, Alibi of a Nation, 1922-1945.  London, Heinemann, 1956; A Tower of Skulls: a Journey through Persia and Turkish Armenia. London: Duckworth, 1932.