Avenarius was born in Berlin. His father, Eduard Avenarius, a publisher from Leipzig, founded a joint subsidiary company with the Brockhaus publishing house. His mother, Cäcilie née Geyer, was a daughter of the actor and painter Ludwig Geyer. Eduard Avenarius represented the company in Paris, where he consorted with Heinrich Heine and Richard Wagner, the latter being the stepuncle of Ferdinand Avenarius and his brother, the philosopher Richard Avenarius. However, there are speculations in science that Ludwig Geyer was not only the stepfather but the biological father of Wagner too.
Ferdinand Avenarius attended schools in Berlin and Dresden and studied in Leipzig and Zurich medicine, natural sciences, art and literature history as well as philosophy. He returned to Dresden in 1882, where he founded the magazine Der Kunstwart, the leading publication channel of the German culture reform movement, which was dedicated to aesthetic education as well as to love to culture and nature. Avenarius married Else Doehn divorced Schumann. His father-in-law, Dr. Rudolf Doehn, was a German writer and an American representative in Missouri. In 1895, Schilling & Graebner built a first villa for Avenarius in Blasewitz.
In 1902 Avenarius founded together with art historian Paul Schumann the Dürerbund, named after Albrecht Dürer, which became the leading culture organization in Deutsches Reich, Austria and Switzerland. Avenarius was member of Deutscher Werkbund and belonged to the directorate of the German garden city movement. From 1903, Avenarius spent the summer months on Sylt, which he made popular. Kampen made him its first honorary citizen and the University of Heidelberg appointed him honorary doctor.
Avenarius became especially known as editor and publisher. He supported young authors like Hermann Häfker and painters, but fought heavily against all appearances of "low taste" or "little value", as he ranked e. g. the work by Karl May. This controversy lasted many years.
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- Paul Fechter (1953), "Avenarius, Ferdinand Ernst Albert", Neue Deutsche Biographie (NDB) (in German) 1, Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, pp. 466–467
- Avenarius in Dresden
- Avenarius on Sylt
- Ferdinand Avenarius in the German National Library catalogue
- Works by Ferdinand Avenarius at Zeno.org (German)
- Works by Ferdinand Avenarius at Projekt Gutenberg-DE (German)
- Avenarius in the Open Library
- Gerhard Kratzsch. Kunstwart und Dürerbund. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Gebildeten im Zeitalter des Imperialismus. Vandenhoeck u. Ruprecht, Göttingen 1969. ISBN 3-525-36125-4.