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Scheffler, Karl

Date born:  1869

Place Born:  Eppendorf (modern Hamburg) , Germany

Date died:  1951

Place died:  überlingen, Germany

Art critic and early German historian of modern art.  Scheffler graduated from the Realschule and took over his father’s interior painting business. In 1888 he attended the Kunstgewerbeschule of Berlin where he mastered tapestry design. After working for a Berlin fabric firm, he started to write articles for the magazines Atelier and the Dekorative Kunst in 1897, and after 1899 for the better known Die Zukunft. Turn-of-the-century German periodicals were increasingly attacking the conservative art policies of Kaiser Wilhelm II. Among the newly founded magazines supporting the avant-garde were Pan (1895–1900), edited by Julius Meier-Graefe (q.v.), and Kunst und Künstler (1903–33), published by Bruno Cassirer (1872–1941) and edited by Scheffler from 1906 onward.  Scheffler wrote over one hundred articles and exhibition reviews.  Together with Curt Glaser (q.v)  he published a book series called Deutsche Meister during the years 1921-32 which met with limited success. After a series of essays on the Symbolist art of Henry van Velde (1913) Scheffler moved to the subject of Impressionism. The impressionist esthetic brought him into conflict with Expressionism, Cubism and Constructivism. His 1917 book, Der Geist der Gotik tracing German spirit through the impulse of the Gothic form, was remarkably similar to a similar volume by Wilhelm Worringer (q.v). Unlike Worringer, however, he opposed the works of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Paul Klee, preferring the art of Pablo Picasso. In 1921 Scheffler published his Berliner Museumskrieg (Berlin Museum War) attacking the Director of the National Gallery, Ludwig Justi (q.v), for using the Kronprinzenpalais as a museum for contemporary art. The ascension of the Nazis to power in Germany silenced most modernist art writing, including Scheffler's. He published a few articles in journals including the Das Werk. During the war he remained at the Bodensee, producing volumes on the comparatively safer topics of French 19th-century painters, which appeared in 1942, and another in 1943 of anecdotes of artists. In 1944 he received the honorary doctorate form the University of Zurich. After World War II he once again elicited recognition from his native Germany.  The Technical College of Stuttgart honored his art writing. He also finished the second part to his autobiography.  

Scheffler characterized himself  in his biography as a person who looked at art questioning what makes one work better than another. He distanced himself  from the academic discipline of art history, perhaps because he himself never attended college or worked in a museum. Although he wrote on all areas of art, Scheffler’s principle focus was on contemporary art; his writing set the standard for the later style of Kunstwissenschaft theory among German art historians in the century. He became editor of a small art journal, yet a very influential teacher for the understanding of art. HB/LS

Home Country:  Germany

Sources:  Metzler Kunsthistoriker Lexikon: zweihundert Porträts deutschsprachiger Autoren aus vier Jahrhunderten. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1999, pp. 343-6; Heise, Carl Georg, and Langner, Johannes.  Karl Scheffler: eine Auswahl seiner Essays aus Kunst und Leben 1905-1950.  Hamburg: Dr. Ernst Hauswedell, 1969, pp. 5-8.

Bibliography:  Henry van de Velde: vier Essays. Leipzig: Insel-Verlag, 1913; Das lachende Atelier: Künstleranekdoten des 19. Jahrhunderts. Zurich:  Scientia AG., 1943; Zeit und Stunde:  neue Essays. Leipzig: Insel-Verlag, 1926; Was will das werden? Ein Tagebuch im Kriege. Leipzig: Insel-Verlag, 1917;  Leben, Kunst und Staat: gesammelte Essays.  Leipzig: Insel-Verlag, 1912; Der Deutsche und seine Kunst: eine notgedrungene Streitschrift. Munich: R. Piper, 1907; Grundlinien einer Weltgeschichte der Kunst.  Berlin: K. H. Henssel, 1947.