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Stechow, Wolfgang [Ferdinand Ernst Günther]

Date born:  1896

Place Born:  Kiel, Germany

Date died:  1974

Place died:  Princeton, NJ

Scholar of the Dutch baroque, especially graphics and Ruysdael; Oberlin University professor1940-63. Stechow's father, Waldemar Stechow, was an attorney and his mother, Bertha Deutschmann, a concert singer. As a young man, Stechow was educated at the Gymnasium in Göttingen and, after graduating in 1913, volunteered for the German Army at the outbreak of World War I the following year. In 1915 he was taken prisoner of war by the Russians and spent the next two years in a Siberian camp. He returned to Göttingen where he wrote his dissertation at Georgia Augusta University under Count Georg Vizthum on the subject of Dürer's Apocalypse. He served as an assistant keeper of the Kaiser Friedrich Museum, Berlin, under Wihlem von Bode 1921-1922, before he returning to Göttingen (1923-1935). There he taught courses as a privatdozent with Nikolaus Pevsner. There, too, he collaborated as part of the group of German scholars Hofstede de Groot assembled for his new volumes of the catalogue raisonné of Dutch Painting (1923, 1926). Stechow wrote his Habilitationsschrift in 1926 on Dutch mannerism, also under Vizthum. A talented violinist and keyboardist, Stechow performed and organized musical concerts in Göttingen between 1923-1936. During the same time, he contributed many entries for the 37-volume "Thieme-Becker" Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler on Dutch artists. He was appointed Extraordinarius professor at Göttingen in 1931. A protestant of Jewish decent, he lost his academic position at the hands of the Nazi government in 1936. Vizthum sheltered him long enough for Stechow to publish his Salomon Ruysdael book and catalog in 1938. Stechow emigrated to the United States in the same year, were art historian Oskar Hagen, a friend from Göttingen days, secured him a position as Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where Hagen also taught. Stechow left Madison for Oberlin College in 1940, a position he held until his emeritus designation in 1963. Stechow was a renowned teacher who made the deliberate choice to devote his energies to pedagogy rather than book publication. Although his articles number over 200, he produced comparatively few monographs. His best known work, Dutch Landscape Painting of the Seventeenth Century (1966) was written after his retirement. In 1964 he began as advisory curator at the Cleveland Museum of Art, where he was instrumental in acquiring outstanding Dutch paintings. Stechow lectured and taught extensively during his life. It was while at Princeton teaching a class in retirement, that he died. A second edition of the Ruysdael catalog appeared after his death.

Stechow's training was strong in connoisseurship, to which he added the study of iconography. Although excellent in what he did, his methodology attracted criticism. Leo Steinberg criticized Stechow in a book review which Stechow took personally, causing a noted enmity between the two the remainder of their careers. Stechow is most closely associated with authenticity of paintings using connoisseurship (Rysdael). His other major monograph, Dutch Landscape Painting, shows him avoiding the common practice of historic periodization in favor of thematic groupings. The chair of Oberlin during the 1950s, Charles Parkhurst, recalled Stechow's affinities for puns and great wit; Stechow, he said, referred to the introductory course in art history as "From mud to Klee." His students included Horst Gerson, Wolfgang Schöne, Hans Gronau, Reinhold Behrens and Adolf Isermeyer. Writing on Stechow's behalf in 1934 for immigration to the United States, Erwin Panofsky praised him as, "the most distinguished younger art historians of Germany." LS

Home Country:  Germany/United States

Sources:  Gerson, Horst. "Wolfgang Stechow." , in Strauss, Walter S., ed. Tribute to Wolfgang Stechow [special issue] Print Review 5 (Spring 1976): 74-77, reprint [translation of?] Kunstchronik 28 (June 1975): 216-20; 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. 63 cited, 81 mentioned; Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Research Guide to the History of Western Art. Chicago: American Library Association, 1982, p. 78, mentioned, p. 81; Metzler Kunsthistoriker Lexikon: zweihundert Porträts deutschsprachiger Autoren aus vier Jahrhunderten. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1999, pp. 397-400; Wendland, Ulrike. Biographisches Handbuch deutschsprachiger Kunsthistoriker im Exil: Leben und Werk der unter dem Nationalsozialismus verfolgten und vertriebenen Wissenschaftler. Munich: Saur, 1999, vol. 2, pp. 652-659; [obituaries:] Arnold, Paul B. "A Tribute to Wolfgang Stechow." Art Journal 34, no. 3 (Spring, 1975): 240; Walsh, John, jr. "Wolfgang Stechow (1896-1974)." Burlington Magazine 118 (December 1976): 855-856.

Bibliography: [full bibliography appears in volumes of Bulletin of the Allen Art Museum 20: 77 and 32: 94; Apollo und Daphne. Studien der Bibliothek Warburg 23. Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1932; Salomon van Ruysdael: eine Einführung in seine Kunst: mit kritischem Katalog der Gemälde. Berlin: Gebr. Mann, 1938; Dutch Landscape Painting of the Seventeenth Century. National Gallery of Art Kress Foundation Studies in the History of European Art 1. London: Phaidon, 1966; Northern Renaissance Art, 1400-1600: Sources and Documents. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall 1966;Dürer in America: His Graphic Work. New York: Macmillan for the National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1971.

Subject's name: Wolfgang Stechow