Gerald Reitlinger

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Portrait of Gerald Reitlinger by Christopher Wood, 1926, Ashmolean Museum

Gerald Roberts Reitlinger (born 1900 in London, United Kingdom – died 1978 in St Leonards-on-Sea, United Kingdom) was an art historian, especially of Asian ceramics, and scholar of historical changes in taste in art and their reflection in art prices. After World War II he wrote three large books on Nazi Germany. He was also a painter and collector, mainly of pottery. Reitlinger's major works were The Final Solution (1953), The SS: Alibi of a Nation (1956), and between 1961–1970 he published The Economics of Taste in three volumes.

Career[edit]

Born in London to the banker Albert Reitlinger and his wife Emma Brunner, Reitlinger was educated at Westminster School in London before a short service with the Middlesex Regiment at the end of World War I. He then studied history, concentrating on art history, at Christ Church, University of Oxford and later at the Slade School and Westminster School of Art, during which time he also edited Drawing and Design, a journal "devoted to art as a national asset" from 1927–29, and exhibited his own paintings in London. He appears under the name of "Reinecker" in Robert Byron's early travel book The Station (1928). In the 1930s he took part in two archaeological excavations in the Near East, one in 1930–31 financed by the Field Museum of Chicago to Kish, now in Iraq, and the second in 1932 to Al-Hirah, financed by Oxford, where he was co-director with David Talbot Rice. These inspired not only his book A Tower of Skulls: a Journey through Persia and Turkish Armenia of 1932, but his collecting interest in Islamic pottery.[1]

He travelled extensively and wrote non-fiction works on his trips to China and the Near East. During World War II, he served again as a British soldier, in an anti-aircraft battery and then lecturing to troops, before being discharged because of ill-health. Postwar, he wrote articles on art for newspapers and art journals, and with his second wife Eileen Anne Graham Bell became known for hosting parties for London society.[2]

During the 1950s he wrote two works on the Holocaust: The SS: Alibi of a Nation and The Final Solution, both of which achieved large sales. In the latter book, he alleged that Soviet claims of the Auschwitz death toll being 4 million were "ridiculous", and he suggested an alternative figure of 800,000 to 900,000 dead; about 4.2 to 4.5 million was his estimate for the total number of Jewish deaths in the Holocaust.[3] Subsequent scholarship has generally increased Reitlinger's conservative figures for death tolls, though his book was still described as being "widely regarded as a definitive account" in 1979.[4]

In 1961, he published the first of three volumes of The Economics of Taste, a work on the art market from the eighteenth century onwards, mostly in Britain and France, with much detailed information on historic prices,[5] and a very lively commentary, though the reviewer for The Burlington Magazine of Volume III criticised "a tone of provocative flippancy".[6][7] The tone of the Economics of Taste aroused mixed feelings among reviewers, but they and those reviewing the books on the Nazis found large numbers of points of detail that were incorrect.[8]

Reitlinger was a great fan of the work of London artist Austin Osman Spare, and purchased the sole copy of Spare's 1924 sketchbook of "automatic drawings", The Book of Ugly Ectasy, which contained a series of grotesque creatures.[9] He would later tell Frank Letchford that while he would happily sell his prints by Henri Matisse, he would never part with his Spare drawings.[10]

Donation and death[edit]

Reitlinger died from a cerebral haemorrhage in Sussex. His collection of Islamic pottery, Japanese and Chinese porcelain was donated in 1972 to the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, where a gallery is named in his honour. The carefully recorded collection had been kept in his house at Beckley, East Sussex, which he also gave to the museum, intending it to be displayed there, and with the condition he lived there for the rest of his life. However the house was severely damaged by fire in February 1978, a few months before his death, though most of the collection was saved.[11]

Main publications[edit]

  • A Tower of Skulls: a Journey through Persia and Turkish Armenia, London: Duckworth, 1932.
  • South of the Clouds: a Winter Ride through Yün-nan, London: Faber & Faber, 1939.
  • The Final Solution, New York: Beechhurst Press, 1953.
  • The SS: Alibi of a Nation, London: Heinemann, 1956 ISBN 978-0-13-839936-8
  • The House built on Sand, the conflicts of German policy in Russia, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1960.
  • The Economics of Taste, (three volumes) London: Barrie and Rockliffe, 1961–1970.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Dictionary of Art Historians
  2. ^ Dictionary of Art Historians
  3. ^ The Final Solution. The Attempt to Exterminate the Jews of Europe, 1939–1945 by Gerald Reitlinger, review by Philip Friedman, p. 189, Jewish Social Studies, Vol. 16, No. 2 (Apr. 1954), pp. 186–189, Indiana University Press, JSTOR ;see also a review by Albert M. Hyamson, International Affairs, Vol. 29, No. 4 (Oct. 1953), pp. 494–495, published by Wiley on behalf of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, JSTOR
  4. ^ Luck, David, "Use and Abuse of Holocaust Documents: Reitlinger and "How Many?", Jewish Social Studies, Vol. 41, No. 2, Articles Devoted to the Holocaust (Spring, 1979), pp. 95–122, Indiana University Press, JSTOR
  5. ^ Dictionary of Art Historians
  6. ^ The Economics of Taste: Volume III: The Art Market in the 1960s by Gerald Reitlinger, review by: Keith Roberts, The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 113, No. 822 (Sep. 1971), pp. 555–556, JSTOR
  7. ^ Dictionary of Art Historians
  8. ^ See all those cited above, Denys Sutton on Volume I of Economics, The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 104, No. 715 (Oct. 1962), pp. 437–438, JSTOR, and David Loshak on the same in Victorian Studies, Vol. 5, No. 4 (Jun. 1962), pp. 348–349, Indiana University Press, JSTOR
  9. ^ Baker 2011. pp. 144–145.
  10. ^ Baker 2011. p. 146.
  11. ^ Ashmolean Museum biography

References[edit]