‘It may be good art history’: The rehabilitation of Dr. Helen Rosenau

Page 1


EXTRACT FROM Adapted from an unpublished conference on émigré art historians. DATE 2019. SOURCE Published by Queen Mary, University of London. For further information see collection, exhibitions and research on Benuri.org.

‘It may be good art history’: the rehabilitation of Dr Helen Rosenau As this re-publication of a largely-forgotten 76 year-old text attests, ‘Helen Rosenau’ is a name within the field of art history in Britain which has been largely overlooked since her death in 1984; indeed her presence online (let alone her presence IRL, beyond key publications, remains somewhat obscured; even Griselda Pollock’s 2014 lecture ‘Making Feminist Memories: The Case of Helen Rosenau and Woman in Art 1944’, took place without showing a single picture of Rosenau. Nevertheless, traces of her diverse feminist and humanist interests beyond her academic remit, do exist in unexpected iterations, and it is these more hidden representations that I hope to explore in this brief text. Following her arrival in Britain as a refugee in 1933, Rosenau spent most of her career at London and Manchester universities, with her research interests ranging across Jewish art and ritual architecture, French Revolutionary painters and architects, sociology of art, utopian architecture and urban planning (though her final post was at the Leo Baeck College, which continues today to train rabbis and teachers of Jewish education). Her published legacy as a lecturer at English universities in the postwar period is not difficult to locate. A cursory trawl online quickly reveals a number of single authored books over three decades – some reprinted – across her favoured research areas: A Short History of Jewish Art (London: J. Clarke, 1948); The Painter Jacques-Louis David (London: Nicholson & Watson, 1948); The Ideal City in its Architectural Evolution (London: Routledge and Paul, 1959); Social Purpose in Architecture: Paris and London Compared, 1760–1800 (London: Studio Vista, 1970); Boullee & Visionary Architecture (London: Academy Editions, 1976) and The Image of the Temple of Jerusalem in Judaism and Christianity (London: Oresko Books, 1979). Her initial marginality can perhaps partly be attributed to Rosenau’s status in 1930s Britain as a Jewish refugee and as a woman. As Margaret Olin has observed: ‘Art historians of Jewish heritage were part of the intense theoretical debate that characterized art history in Germanspeaking countries in the 1920s and early 1930s. […] Those who concentrated on Jewish topics remained marginal to the field as a whole [...] Some […] who did make important contributions to the study of Jewish monuments were [...] doubly marginal. They were women.’ 1 And although her position as a German émigré may have opened the door a little way at the Warburg, her position as a woman, equally, sometimes made her situation there far from easy. Brought up in a wealthy Jewish medical family between Monte Carlo and Bad Kissingen, Rosenau was initially privately tutored. After her abitur in 1923, she studied art history at 1

Munich under Wölfflin, in Berlin under Goldschmidt, in Bonn under Paul Clemen and in Hamburg under Panofsky, where her first thesis on Cologne cathedral (1930) was published in 1931.2 With the rise of Nazism, antisemitic laws prevented her from receiving her Habilitation from Münster on medieval architecture and she was removed from university and her scholarship withdrawn. She and her mother then emigrated first to Switzerland, arriving in England in autumn 1933. Prior to her departure, Rosenau had already established links with the Warburg in Hamburg and London – she thanks Professor Fritz Saxl (1890-1948) personally in the preface to her Cologne Cathedral book – and she continued a correspondence from the early 1930s with Gertrud Bing (1892-1964) and Rudolf Wittkower (1901-71), initially writing in German on elegant monogrammed paper, and signed with a flourish, as so vividly described by Rifkin.3 With the outbreak of war, the letters are increasingly written in English and on plain postcards. Rosenau’s first major English publication, On Design and Medieval Architecture, appeared in 1934,4 a stipend from the British Federation of University Women (BFUW), replacing one issued by the Notgemeinschaft der deutschen Wissenschaft in 1932 but then withdrawn, and which enabled her to complete research begun in Germany. She subsequently continued her studies at the Courtauld Institute, researching the architectural history of the synagogue for her PhD (1940, awarded Summa cum Laude), describing her approach to Saxl as somewhat academically risky: ‘the art historians will say it may be good sociology and the sociologists: it may be good history of art’.5 From 1935 she began contributing to a wide range of British academic publications, including Apollo, Burlington, the Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Adult Education, and RIBA Journal, exploring art historical topics along with wider humanist, educational and feminist interests. In 1936 Rosenau published ‘Some aspects of the pictorial influence of the Jewish Temple’ in Palestine Exploration Quarterly and ‘Note on the Relationship of Jews’ Court and the Lincoln Synagogue’ in Archaeological Journal. In this year, she was also included in the list of German scholars in exile, published by Notgemein-schaft deutscher wissenschaftler im ausland which identified 2600 such scholars by 1937. The purpose of the list was ‘to find openings for those German scholars who have lost their positions in Germany as a result of political developments since 1933’.6 In cooperation with the Academic Assistance Council (later the Society for Protection of Learning, now the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics) the Notgemeinschaft had transferred to London. Rosenau was identified under both ‘Archaeology’ and ‘Art History’ sections (‘Art history’ with more than 50 names was comparable with the list 2

for History) confirming the importance of German émigrés in developing a discipline which to date had had little profile in Britain. Those listed as securing posts at the Courtauld, itself formed in 1932, included Friedrich Antal, Peter Briege, Alfred Scharf, Martin Weinberger, and at the Warburg, Fritz Saxl, Otto Kurz and Rudolf Wittkower; Edith Hoffman and Pevsner were listed as ‘unaffiliated researchers’.7 Correspondence in the Warburg archive confirms that being published in credible journals during wartime was difficult for many reasons – and Rosenau’s submissions were often harshly criticised by her male colleagues, both in letters written directly to Rosenau and in notes between themselves. During the war years, Saxl sought to reassure her, when her articles were turned down for publication, that paper shortages were partly to blame, that ‘the lack of collaboration of which you complain is not institutional’8 and that ‘any refusal on the part of the editors […] is quite impersonal’.9 Some years later, Blunt wrote caustically to the editor of the Warburg Journal, when Rosenau was seeking a publisher, that: ‘[…] as usual she has found something interesting and presented it in a hopeless manner’.10 By 1939 Rosenau-Carmi (now married to Palestinian economist Doctor Zvi Carmi) was noted in minutes of the British Federation of University Women Refugee sub-committee under ‘Special Cases’, requesting funding towards purchasing photographs for her women and art booklet which she was researching at the LSE under German émigré sociologist Kurt Manheim – specifically asking for £1 a month for a year. The request was declined, as the committee decided this was not ‘a case where help was absolutely necessary’. 11 As with many émigrés from prosperous backgrounds, exile brought financial hardship – and with the adoption of her infant son in 1944, Rosenau needed to secure funding and employment. Minutes further confirm that her request was refused, noting that Rosenau had already received a Crosby Hall fellowship during 1934-35, which provided accommodation in an historic building in Cheyne Walk. Leased by the BFUW, Crosby Hall was a residence for women students at a time when relatively few were entering higher education, and which became a refuge for scholars - many Jewish - who were fleeing Nazism. Rosenau later moved to Goldhurst Terrace, in West Hampstead, in the heart of the Jewish émigré community, and then to a flatlet on the edge of Regents Park. Copies of correspondence in the Warburg Archive from August 1940 clearly evidence Rosenau’s determined search for a suitable academic position across English universities at this time. (A Miss Jaffe at Cambridge University did ‘not think they will bestow a fellowship 3

upon an alien just now’.12) In the same year, Rosenau was classified as an enemy of the German state and placed on the Sonderfahndungsliste G.B.,13 along with Bing and Antal. Although not actively political, in 1943 she wrote ‘Die Kunst unter dem National sozialismus’ in conjunction with refugee sculptor Heinz Worner, in a small anthology, entitled Der Fall Prof Huber, edited by Hans Siebert, as part of the Frie Deutsch Kultur series published by the Free German League of Culture, and whose contributors included German émigrés from the fields of literature, art history, economics, history and philosophy. 14 From the mid 1940s, Rosenau also gave adult education lectures under the various auspices of the Extra Mural Department of London University (including a series for the Ben Uri Art Society) 15, the LCC (‘Art and Society’ at Marylebone Institute16) and the Workers Education Association (WEA). 1944 saw the eventual publication of her women and art: from type to personality booklet as the first and only volume under designer Anthony Froshaug’s modernist imprint, Isomorph. Rosenau’s subject did not arrive without precedent, but followed her short article, ‘Changing Attitudes Towards Women’ which Rosenau contributed to the literary compendium: Women Under the Swastika, published in English by the Free German League of Culture in 1942 (which included the title piece by German feminist Marguerite Kuczynski), 17 and an essay for Apollo a year later, on the ‘Social Status of Women as Reflected in Art’. 18 Rifkin suggests Rosenau became a feminist around 1929 in response to a bullying professor – an event which finds some resonance with her later treatment by certain male colleagues in London. Rosenau received her certificate of naturalisation in early February 1948, two days after her husband. In December, her book on painter Jacques-Louis David was reviewed in AJR Information, the newly launched magazine for the Association of Jewish Refugees, by fellow émigré, Dr Lutz Weltzman, who had also contributed to Der Fall Prof Huber. A writer for Rudolf Mosse’s papers in Berlin prior to emigrating in 1939, he extolled Rosenau’s ‘fine reputation as a historian of art in this country […]. Her special subject is architecture, and her heart belongs to Jewish and women's questions’.19 Weltzman continued in this vein the following May, with a review of her A Short History of Jewish Art, prefaced by Edward Carter, Counsellor for Libraries and Museums, UNESCO.20 In November 1949, Rosenau herself reviewed several exhibitions by Jewish émigré artists, observing that ‘The riches of a civilisation can be gauged from the variety of the personalities who participate in it. If this test be applied to artists in the Anglo-Jewish community, then one may express satisfaction at a galaxy of varied talent.’21 Rosenau praised a roster of Germans, including émigré sculptor Else


Frankel showing at the Essex Art Club, The Meidners, Ludwig and Else, exhibiting jointly at Ben Uri and Fritz Solomonski at Kensington Gallery. This was a particularly difficult period for Rosenau whose husband had been terminally ill and who passed away in late 1950. Much of her – now handwritten – correspondence in the Warburg archives, conveys a tone of anxious desperation. Her appointment as assistant lecturer in History of Art at Manchester, as announced in the AJR Information on 1951 April must have been a huge relief, her new position enabling her to ‘take a decisive part in the building up of the newly established Art Department […] a task for which she has been considered particularly qualified due to her Continental experience.’22 This post was achieved after earlier bitter disappointments regarding posts at Cambridge and Durham Universities. And although Rosenau was thrilled, Rifkin recalls that she was in fact treated ‘like a kitchen maid’. She, of course, understood the importance of keeping up contacts in London and maintained links with the Warburg and beyond. Her progressive humanist and feminist outlook saw her contribute to The Monthly Record of the Ethical Society from 1952 onwards on subjects ranging from ‘The Humanism of Da Vinci’,23 ‘Has Art a function today’ and ‘Form and Function in the Visual Arts’. She also wrote a number of columns for The International Women’s News, on linked topics with a female perspective, including: ’The Institution of Marriage as seen in Art’, ‘Motherhood as Seen in Art’, ‘The Community of Women as seen in Art’ and ‘Women Pioneers as seen in Art’. 24 AJR Information continued to track Rosenau’s career, and in 1953 it reviewed her study on Boullée under the headline ‘Refugee Scholar’, even though the war had ended eight years earlier.25 In July 1955 the journal highlighted 188 scholarships and fellowships worth $135,000 awarded by the latest Claims Conference to Victims of Nazi persecution. Rosenau was among 31 British recipients, along with expressionist painter, Else Meidner.26 After her retirement, Rosenau resumed her support for adult education, lecturing once again for the Extra-Mural Department at London University and for the School of Architecture at the Polytechnic of Central London. After her death in 1984, several obituaries were published, including one in the Gazette des Beaux Arts, written by her friend, the writer and art historian Mendel Metzger (1900-2002), estranged brother of émigré artist, Gustav Metzger; in a quirk of connection so typical of informal networks in exile, Gustav was assisting Rosenau’s son, Michael, in his efforts to leave his mother’s library and manuscripts to the Exil Archiv in Frankfurt. 5

It seems appropriate to end this snapshot of an academic life under rehabilitation - and which enthusiastically embraced journeys of exploration in a number of unexpected directions - with an element of circularity. In June 1985, AJR Information proudly reviewed the reprinting of Philo-Lexicon: Handbuch des Judischen Wissens - a handbook of Jewish knowledge originally published in Germany during the 1930s. Recently deceased notables listed therein included distinguished Rabbi Leo Baeck; AJR Information’s own editor, Dr Werner Rosenstock; and Dr Helen Rosenau, each described as ‘part of long roll of honour of the German Jewish intelligentsia’.27


Margaret Olin, The Nation Without Art Examining Modern Discourses on Jewish Art (Lincoln, Nebraska and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2001), pp. 129-130. 2 Der Kölner Dom. Seine Baugeschichte und historische Stellung (Cologne: Verlag des Kölnischen Geschichtsvereins, 1931). 3 See copies and letters (uncatalogued but arranged by year and alphabetically by correspondent), Warburg Archive. 4 Helen Rosenau, Design and Medieval Architecture (London: B.T. Batsford, Limited, 1934). 5 Typescript letter from Helen Rosenau-Carmi to Dr Saxl, 6 March 1941, Warburg Archive. 6 ‘Introduction’ to Notgemein-schaft deutscher wissenschaftler im ausland, London, 1936, unpaginated. 7 Ibid., pp. 8-11. 8 Copy of typescript letter from Dr Saxl to Mrs Rosenau,24 March 1942, Warburg Archive.. 9 Ibid. 10 Copy of typescript letter from Anthony Blunt to M D Brown Esq, The Journal of the Warburg Institute, 15 November 1963, Warburg Archive.

https://www.ushmm.org/online/hsv/wexner/cache/1591969226-2412464-RG59.026M.0001.00000160.jpg accessed 12 June 2020. 11


Copy typescript letter from Dr Saxl to Mrs Carmi, 27 August 1940, Warburg Archive. https://digitalcollections.hoover.org/images/Collections/DA585.A1_G37_V/DA585.A1_G37_V.pdf accessed 27 May 2020. 14 Contributors included: Meusel, Alfred, ‘Die deutschen intellektuellen in der zeit der französischen revolution’; Liebert, Arthur. ‘Wilhelm von Humboldt und die gründung der Berliner universität’; Rosenau, Helen und Worner, Heinz, ‘Die kunst unter dem nationalsozialismus’; .Sultan, Herbert, ‘Die romantik und die deutsche wissenschaft’; Jacobs, Monty, ‘Theater im Naziland’; Schellenberger, J, ‘ Zur soziologie des deutschen lehrers’; Kuczynski, Jürgen, ‘Geopolitik und faschismus’; Weltmann, Lutz, ‘Literaturwissenschaft an den naziuniversitäten’. 15 See printed syllabus for University of London Extension Course on ‘The Jewish Contribution to Art’; http://d303gnxmdhyq59.cloudfront.net/archive/BU_Pub_LectureSyll_1948.pdf accessed 27 May 2020. 16 See typescript note from Helen Rosenau to Dr Wittkower, 8 October 1942, Warburg Archives. 17 The pamphlet included: Foreword by Theo Naftel; ‘From the Stories of Minna’ by Friemut Schwarz; ‘One of the Many’ by Ruth Von Bueren; ‘German Miner's Wife’ by Honor Arudnel; ‘You Men are Funny People’ by Hans Fladung; ‘The Women of Neunkirchen’ by Max Zimmering; ‘On Leave’ by Rta Hausdorff; ‘Kathe Kollwitz’ by Paul Westheim; ‘Song of an Exiled Woman’ by Hans Schoenfeld; ‘Changing Attitudes Towards Women’ by Helen Rosenau and ‘German Women against the Swastika’ by Marguerite Kuczynski. 18 ‘Social status of women as reflected in art’ in Apollo. No. 37, 1943, pp. 94-98. 19 AJR Information, December 1948, p. 6. 20 AJR Information, May 1949, p. 4. 21 AJR Information, November 1949, p. 7. 22 AJR Information, April 1951, p. 7. 23 The Monthly Record, Vol. 57, No. 8, August 1952 13



Michael Carmi Archive, copies of pages 13, 34 and 55 from three separate undated issues. AJR Information, August 1953, p. 4. 26 AJR Information, July 1955, p. 2. 27 AJR Information, June 1985, p. 4. 25


Turn static files into dynamic content formats.

Create a flipbook
Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.