Henry Koerner

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Henry Koerner
Born August 28, 1915
Vienna, Austria
Died 4 July 1991(1991-07-04) (aged 75)
St. Pölten, Austria
Spouse(s) Joan Marlene Frasher (born February 29, 1932)
Children Joseph Leo Koerner (born June 17, 1958)
Stephanie Koerner (born July 22, 1954)

Henry Koerner (August 28, 1915, Vienna, Austria – July 4, 1991, St. Pölten, Austria) was an Austrian-born American painter and graphic designer best known for his early Magical Realist works of the late 1940s and his portrait covers for Time magazine.

Early life[edit]

Born in the Leopoldstadt District of Vienna to Jewish parents Leo Koerner (1879–1942) and Feige Dwora (“Fanny”) Koerner (1887–1942), Koerner attended the Realgymnasium Vereinsgasse. Trained in graphic design at Vienna’s Graphische Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt (1934–36), he worked in the studio of Viktor Theodor Slama, designing posters and book jackets. Following Hitler’s annexation of Austria in 1938, he fled via Italy (Milan and Venice) to the U.S., settling in New York and in 1940 marrying Viennese-born Fritzi Apfel.[1]

Employed as a commercial artist in Maxwell Bauer Studios in Manhattan, he achieved initial success as a poster artist, receiving first prize from the American Society of the Control of Cancer Poster Competition and two first prizes from the National War Poster Competition. In 1943, the Office of War Information hired Koerner in its Graphics Division in New York, where he worked alongside artists Ben Shahn, Bernard Perlin, and David Stone Martin. Shahn’s pictorial style, along with the photography of Walker Evans and German Neue Sachlichkeit painters (e.g., Otto Dix), inspired Koerner’s painting, which began with a rendering of his family home in Vienna (My Parents I, 1943).

Drafted into the U.S. Army, he was ordered in 1944 to the Graphics Division of the Office of Strategic Services in Washington, D.C. where he made war posters, including Save Waste Fats and Someone Talked, the latter winning an award from the Museum of Modern Art. Shipped to London, he documented, in pen and ink sketches and photographs, everyday life during wartime. After VE Day (8 May 1945), Koerner was reassigned to Germany, sketching defendants at the War Crimes trials.

Magical Realist Period[edit]

Discharged from the army in 1946, Koerner returned to Vienna to discover that his parents and brother (Kurt, b. 1913), as well as all but two of his relatives, had been deported and killed. Photos taken by the artist on this trip were discovered posthumously and exhibited in exhibitions in Naples, Florida and Columbus, Ohio.

In Berlin, having joined the Graphics Division of the U.S. Military Government, he painted his first major works, including My Parents II (Curtis Galleries, Inc., Minneapolis), The Skin of Our Teeth (Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, University of Nebraska), and Vanity Fair (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York). These paintings were exhibited in 1947, to international acclaim, in a one-person show at Berlin’s Haus am Waldsee—the first exhibition of American modern art in post-war Germany.[2]

Returning to New York later that year, he exhibited the Berlin works in an exhibition at Midtown Galleries, which represented him until 1964. Life magazine wrote of the show: “No new artist in years has been accorded the sudden, unanimous praise received by Koerner.”[3] Critics associated his work that of other so-called Magic, (or Symbolic) Realists such as Paul Cadmus and George Tooker.[4][5]

Inspired by the structural logic of Giotto’s frescoes in the Arena Chapel, Koerner created in 1948–49 a new series of paintings—all in the same scale and viewpoint and focused on the American scene—that absorbed fantastical elements into the fabric of everyday life.

Pittsburgh[edit]

From 1952 to 1953, Koerner was Artist-in-Residence at Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham University) in Pittsburgh, PA, where he met his second wife, Joan Marlene Frasher (born 1932, Escanaba, Michigan), a violinist and undergraduate music major at the College. He settled in Pittsburgh. He used friends, family, and students as models. Although a well-known personality in Pittsburgh, Koerner’s pictures—enigmatic, comical, and often monumental in scale—baffled many art critics[who?].

From 1955–67, he painted fifty portrait covers for Time magazine. Because Koerner refused to work from photographs, sitters, including Maria Callas, John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Paul Getty, and Barbra Streisand, posed for many hours for their portraits, usually during the most eventful times of their lives; but this method gave their likenesses an immediacy meant to outdo photographs, which were increasingly featured on Time’s covers. From 1966 on, annual trips to Vienna shifted Koerner art from American subjects, which occupied him previously, to ones mingling the landscapes and people of Vienna and Pittsburgh. The center of Koerner’s output were large-scale allegorical paintings made up of sixteen canvases.[6] In 1965 he was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate member and became a full Academician in 1967.

Late Style and Death[edit]

Koerner produced many thousands[specify] of works in his career. In the 1980s, he worked mostly in watercolor, pressing the medium to monumental tasks and formats.

During the last decade of his life, Koerner painted again mainly in oils, favoring a new, square format, and simplifying his motifs. In these works “Koerner condense[d] his experience as a plein-air painter of uncanny views.”[7] Increasing interest in émigré artists brought his work new critical notice in Austria and the States.[8] After his death, his work was shown in a major retrospective in Vienna (1997) and an exhibition of his early work at the Frick Art and Historical Center in Pittsburgh (2003).

Koerner died in 1991, following complications from a hit-and-run accident on his bicycle in the Wachau in Austria. He is buried in Pittsburgh’s Frick Cemetery.

Self-Portrait. 'Springtime for Henry', casein on canvas, 1952

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Solo Exhibitions (selection)[edit]

  • Ausstellung Henry Koerner U.S.A. Gemälde und Graphik. Haus am Waldsee, Berlin. 1947.
  • Henry Koerner. Midtown Galleries, New York, NY. 1948.
  • Retrospective Exhibition of the Work of Henry Koerner. Pennsylvania College for Women, Pittsburgh, PA. 1952.
  • Henry Koerner. Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings. M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, CA. 1953.
  • Henry Koerner. Hammer Galleries, New York, NY. 1964.
  • Henry Koerner Retrospective Exhibition. The Westmoreland County Museum of Art, Greensburg, PA. 1971.
  • Henry Koerner. Concept Art Gallery, New York, Ny. 1981.
  • Unheimliche Heimat—Henry Koerner 1915–1991. Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna. 1997.
  • The Early Work of Henry Koerner. Frick Art and Historical Center, Pittsburgh, PA. 2003.
  • Henry Koerner: The Real and Imagined. The Von Liebig Art Center, Naples, FL. 2010–2011.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Cozzolino, Robert. “Henry Koerner, Honoré Sharrer, and the Subversion of Veauty: ‘Magic Realism’ and the Photograph.” In Shared Intelligence: American Painting and the Photograph, pp. 102–121. Exhibition catalogue ed. Barbara Buhler Lynes and Jonathan Weinberg. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2011.
  • Haus am Waldsee, Ausstellung Henry Koerner: Gemälde und Graphik, 1945–1947 (Berlin, 1947); Cora Sol Goldstein, Capturing the German Eye: American Visual Propganda in Occupied Germany (Chicago 2009), pp. 91–96.Exiles
  • Gail Stravitzky, From Vienna To Pittsburgh: The Art of Henry Koerner, exh. cat. (Pittsburgh: Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, 1983), pp. 13–17. [1]
  • Emigrants and Exiles: A Lost Generation of Austrian Artists in America, 19200-1950. Exhibition Catalogue by John Czaplicka and David Mickenberg. Evanstan: Mary and Leigh Block Gallery, Northwestern University, 1996.
  • Cozzolino, Robert. “Henry Koerner, Honoré Sharrer, and the Subversion of Veauty: ‘Magic Realism’ and the Photograph.” In Shared Intelligence: American Painting and the Photograph, pp. 102–121. Exhibition catalogue ed. Barbara Buhler Lynes and Jonathan Weinberg. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2011.
  • Joseph Leo Koerner, Unheimliche Heimat—Henry Koerner 1915–1991, exh. cat. (Vienna: Österreichische Galerie, 1997), pp. 57–75.
  • The Early Work of Henry Koerner. Exh. cat. by Edith Balas. Pittsburgh: Frick Art & Historical Center, 2003.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Gail Stravitzky, From Vienna To Pittsburgh: The Art of Henry Koerner, exh. cat. (Pittsburgh: Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, 1983), pp. 13–17.
  2. ^ Haus am Waldsee, Ausstellung Henry Koerner: Gemälde und Graphik, 1945–1947 (Berlin, 1947); Cora Sol Goldstein, Capturing the German Eye: American Visual Propganda in Occupied Germany (Chicago 2009), pp. 91–96.
  3. ^ Life, May 10, 1948.
  4. ^ Symbolic Realism in American Painting 1940–1950, exh. cat. (London: Institute of Contemporary Arts, 1950), p. 8.
  5. ^ Cf. Roberto Cozzolino, “Henry Koerner, Honoré Sharrer, and the Subversion of Veauty: ‘Magic Realism’ and the Photograph.” In Shared Intelligence: American Painting and the Photograph, pp. 102–121.
  6. ^ Joseph Leo Koerner, Unheimliche Heimat—Henry Koerner 1915–1991, exh. cat. (Vienna: Österreichische Galerie, 1997), pp. 57–75.
  7. ^ Unheimliche Heimat, p. 71.
  8. ^ E.g., Czaplicka and Mickenberg.

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