Régine Bonnefoit

J.P. Hodin’s Proverbial ‘Commitment to Kokoschka’

In my article ‘Kunsthistoriker vom Künstler zensiert: am Beispiel der Kokoschka-Monographie von Edith Hoffmann (1947)’ (An Art Historian Censored by the Artist: The Example of Edith Hoffmann’s Kokoschka Monograph (1947)), I showed how radically Kokoschka intervened in the texts of his biographers. That this was by no means an isolated case can be observed by investigating the genesis of J.P. Hodin’s numerous writings about Kokoschka. A brief C.V. that the artist sent to Hodin in c.1944–5 as the basis for a monograph is riddled with false dates and facts. And yet the artist insisted on their use verbatim. Hodin wrote obediently what the artist wanted to hear and in return Kokoschka used his influence so that Hodin could place his articles in important journals.

Kokoschka never tired of censoring his biographers, as can be seen from an episode in 1963 when the artist demanded Hodin make changes to his text: ‘I have reacted a little sharply, but it had to be’, followed by ‘I’m helping you so that the book doesn’t turn out as nonsense!’ It is hardly surprising that when Hodin’s book Oskar Kokoschka. The Artist and his Time was published in 1966, an anonymous reviewer wrote in the Times Literary Supplement that ‘Mr Hodin’s hero-worship of Kokoschka is touching’. In his article of 1970 titled ‘Die figurative Kunst gegenüber der Abstraktion’ (Figurative Art Compared with Abstraction), Hodin uncritically repeated Kokoschka’s polemics against non-representational art in phrases such as ‘Figurative art is a truly humanistic art’ and ‘Man is the measure of all things’. Thus his writings are literally a ‘Bekenntnis zu Kokoschka’, a ‘Commitment to Kokoschka’, as Hodin styled a text he wrote in 1963 in analogy to Kokoschka’s series of lithographs titled Bekenntnis zu Hellas (1961–72).

Rachel Dickson and Sarah MacDougall

Exhibiting the Exile c.1945–1989; J.P. Hodin, Ben Uri and Else Meidner and Hodin’s ‘British Continental School’

Drawing on Tate’s largely uncatalogued collection of J.P. Hodin’s papers, these two presentations examine Hodin’s efforts to promote the exhibition of work by artists in exile in post-warLondon, whom he collectively termed the ‘British Continental School’. Explored here are Hodin’s links with a number of galleries interested in the wider promotion of exiled and émigré artists, including the Ben Uri Gallery and a number of private London galleries, many of whose owners were themselves of émigré origin. Hodin’s conception of a ‘London Salon’, where ‘artists of non-British origin, but resident in Great Britain, may freely exhibit’, and his chequered attempts to realise this ambitious project, is also discussed.

Keith Holz

Writing Kokoschka into Art History: An Assessment of Texts from a Decade in Britain

This paper considers the transformation of Oskar Kokoschka’s image and career during his years in British exile through the lens of his own writings and writings authored by people who wrote for or about him. Kokoschka arrived in London from Prague in late 1938 purportedly destitute and marginalised within the international and British art world, and the following years saw his determined reinvention of his image and career, especially after the war, when he attempted to jumpstart his career. By reading Kokoschka’s texts in relationship to a range of textual materials written by those who wrote the most about him, namely his fiancé and wife Olda, art historian Edith Hoffmann, art writer Josef Paul Hodin, and art historian Charlotte Weidler, this paper accents the asymmetrical power relationships between a Kokoschka hell-bent on personal recognition and aggrandisement and those who wrote him into art history. The public image of Kokoschka, the noble voice of idealistic claims and causes, is discussed in relation to the occasionally ruthless private correspondence and cantankerous communications with these leading authors. In sharp contrast to the critical study that deconstructed the historical myth of great artists by Kokoschka’s fellow émigrés from Vienna, art historians Ernst Kris and Otto Kurz, in Legend, Myth, and Magic in the Image of the Artist (1934), Kokoschka used others to rejuvenate a myth aimed to perpetuate a public image of his own artistic achievements and greatness.

Rachel Smith

J.P. Hodin: Questioning St Ives

In February 1964 J.P. Hodin posted a questionnaire to artists he associated with St Ives. In a covering letter, addressed to each artist, Hodin explained that his intention was ‘to collect material for a major article for “The Studio” magazine’. This article, as Hodin imagined it, did not subsequently appear. The responses of eleven artists, however, are held with Hodin’s papers at the Tate Archive. This paper places Hodin’s questionnaire within a background study of his approach to art history and criticism. It questions his motives and how his set of questions encouraged certain perceptions of artists working in Cornwall. Many of the artists themselves realised the inherent presumptions in Hodin’s questions. Their responses, varying widely in enthusiasm and detail, show their dissatisfaction with or, in some cases, reliance upon current views of art in Cornwall. Peter Lanyon, who was particularly close to Hodin, even created his own ‘suggestions for a better questionnaire’, which helped make Hodin’s aims perhaps even clearer to the critic himself. Finally, the paper engages with the subsequent success or failure of the questionnaire, as a project which failed to materialise and to attract significant attention in histories of art in Cornwall. Through this detailed look at both questions and answers, however, I show how the aspirations of Hodin’s project are still relevant today.

Judith Walsh

J.P. Hodin’s Concepts of Realism in the 1950s

This paper will consider the relevance of J.P. Hodin’s art criticism to concepts of realism in British art in the 1950s. Hodin wrote extensively on the relationship between philosophy, psychology and art in the 1950s and was also interested in the impact of emerging scientific theories on art. His volume of essays, Modern Art and the Modern Mind, written between the years 1951–67, included six essays on the relationship between science and modern art. One of these essays, titled ‘The Empirical Approach to Aesthetic Problems in Modern Art’, describes how the art critic should employ a detailed analysis of structure, composition, technical methods and materials when engaging with new, emerging art forms such as abstract expressionism. For Hodin, art presented a set of problems that required a methodical approach towards a solution or at least a resolution of these ‘problems’ and that maintained that analysis of the main constituents of an artwork was akin to eliciting scientific facts. His writing was highly respected within the academic international community in the 1950s. He asserted that one of the key reasons for introducing scientific reasoning as a method of art criticism was an ongoing concern with the notion of the ‘real’ and ‘reality’.

Lucy Watling

Edith Hoffmann: Émigré ‘Small Fry’ at the Heart of the British Establishment 1933–1950

From the study of her published and unpublished writings from the time she spent in Britain between 1933 and 1950, Edith Hoffmann can be considered among a group of writers – which included émigrés and sympathetic Britons such as Herbert Read – who attempted to ‘introduce’ German modernist art to British audiences. However, despite providing a way into a discussion of this milieu, Hoffmann’s remains an unexplored voice. What was her place – as a young, female, émigré – among this male-dominated circle of critics and artists? Recently uncovered archival material reveals that during the planning of the 1938 London exhibition Twentieth-Century German Art Hoffmann was frequently belittled by these older figures, referred to as the ‘kleiner Backfisch’ (‘small fry’), chastised or undermined in their correspondence. This paper considers how Hoffmann found a place for herself in the London art scene of the 1940s, and how her approach to the defence of German art in Britain differed from those of her contemporaries.


Shulamith Behr, Honorary Research Fellow, Courtauld Institute of Art
Régine Bonnefoit, Assistant Professor, Institut d’histoire de l’art et de muséologie, Université de Neuchâtel
Frances Carey, Chair of the Marie-Louise von Motesiczky Charitable Trust
Emma Chambers, Curator, Modern British Art, Tate Britain
Rachel Dickson, Head of Curatorial Services, Ben Uri Gallery
Vanessa Fewster, Public Relations Officer, Visual Arts Project Manager, Austrian Cultural Forum London
Margaret Garlake, art historian
Christopher Griffin, Collection Research Manager, Tate
Keith Holz, Professor of Art History, Western Illinois University
Alexandra Lazar, PhD candidate, Courtauld Institute of Art 
Sarah MacDougall, Eva Frankfurther Research and Curatorial Fellow for the Study of Émigré Artists, Ben Uri Gallery
Jennifer Mundy, Head of Collection Research, Tate
Ines Schlenker, art historian and former researcher at the Marie-Louise von Motesiczky Charitable Trust
Rachel Smith, Collaborative Doctoral Award candidate, University of York and Tate
Glenn Sujo, 2013–14 G.F. Watts Associate Artist, Watts Gallery and art historian
Jutta Vinzent, Senior Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Art and Visual Culture, University of Birmingham
Judith Walsh, Lecturer, University of Liverpool
Lucy Watling, PhD candidate, Courtauld Institute of Art
Yonna Yapou, art historian