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Hans and Lily Hildebrandt papers, 1899-1979

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Finding aid for the Hans and Lily Hildebrandt papers, 1899-1979

Biographical/Historical Note

Hans Hildebrandt was a leading German art historian and critic whose interests broadly spanned modern art, architecture and decorative arts. An extremely prolific writer and lecturer, Hildebrandt's most celebrated books include Die Architektur bei Albrecht Altdorfer (hab. 1908), Adolf Hölzel als Zeichner (1913), Wandmalerei (1920), Die Kunst des 19. Und 20. Jahrhunderts (1924-1931), and Oskar Schlemmer (1952). Hildebrandt and his wife Lily, a painter, maintained close friendships with a number of leading artists and architects, among them Willi Baumeister, Hans Brühlmann, Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, Hannah Höch, Adolf Hölzel, Johannes Itten, Wassily Kandinsky, Oskar Schlemmer, Hermann Stenner, Wilhem Wagenfeld, and Henry van de Velde.

Born in Staufen bei Freiburg in 1879, Hans Hildebrandt was the son of a leading city administrator and art collector. He received a excellent education in the arts and letters while a student in Mannheim. In 1901, the same year he completed his Abitur, Hildebrandt and a close friend translated and published the poem "Sapphos und Anakreons," which was followed by a series of other translations.

Hildebrandt completed his law studies in 1904 with highest honors but chose not to take his state examinations. Instead, he turned to the study of art history and philosophy in Munich, where he became an active member of the Akademischen Verein für bildende Kunst. Four years later, he completed his dissertation, "Die Architektur bei Albrecht Altdorfer," while a student of Henry Thode at the University of Heidelberg. Shortly after completing his studies, Hans married the young painter Lily Uhlmann, a student of the artists Adolf Meyer (Berlin) and Adolf Hölzel (Dachau).

While Hans Hildebrandt worked as a private instructor in Munich, the Hildebrandts formed part of the avant-garde circle of younger artists around Adolf Hölzel. Prominent figures in this circle included Hans Bruhlmann, Theodor Fischer and Adolf Hildebrand. During this period, Hildebrandt also began working on a quarterly journal entitled Die Form. Hildebrandt accepted a position in 1911 as an instructor ( Privatdozent) at the Technische Hochschule, Stuttgart, and the following year completed his Habilitation. He supplemented his income by publishing numerous essays for popular newspapers and magazines, as well as critical articles on contemporary art and architecture. In 1913, he became a member of the Deutsche Werkbund and contributed a fairytale play, entitled "Amulett," that was performed at the first Werkbund exhibition in Köln of 1914.

Hildebrandt was precluded from service in the First World War due to respiratory illness. In reaction to German militarism, he founded the "Süddeutsche Nachrichtenstelle für die Neutralen," which distributed anti-war literature until the November Revolution in 1918. Hildebrandt condemned the war but felt isolated and persecuted for his views. Hildebrandt's perspectives on war appear in his book Krieg und Kunst, and his article, "Kunst und Nationalität," both published in 1916.

Hans and Lily's only child, Rainer, was born in 1914. For him, Lily created and published an illustrated children's book, Klein-Rainer Weltreise (1917), which was eventually translated into Russian. Inspired by the work of her mentor, Adolf Hölzel, and the 'folk art' quality of the "Blaue Reiter," Lily transformed the style of her own painting and began to produce enigmatic images of everyday life.

At the convention of the Deutsche Werkbund in Stuttgart in 1919, Lily Hildebrandt met the architect Walter Gropius, with whom she had an affair that lasted until her emotional breakdown in 1922. During the course of this affair, Gropius wrote Lily over 130 letters and telegrams recounting intimate details of his life and the administration of the newly founded Bauhaus in Weimar. After 1922 they remained close friends, and their correspondence continued until Gropius's death, providing an intimate view of the architect's life and work during these years.

The publication of Hans Hildebrandt's Habilitation in 1920, and the invitation by A.E. Brinckmann to publish Handbuch der Kunstwissenschaft, initiated the most productive phase of Hildebrandt's career. During this time Hildebrandt became an adjunct professor and undertook a series of monographs on artists such as Archipenko and Hans Brühlmann. He organized a protest action against the adoption of Wilhelm Ostwald's Color Theory (Farbenlehre) in public education and led the Werkbund's opposition group Die freie Gruppe für Farbkunst, which published a special issue of their journal entitled Farbsonderheft. Following a trip to Paris in the Spring of 1924, the architect Le Corbusier invited Hildebrandt to translate his books Vers une architecture and Urbanisme into German. Hildebrandt's reputation as an innovator in art history was furthered in the 1930s by the publication of Die Frau als Künstlerin, 1928, and his monograph on his close friend Oskar Schlemmer.

Hildebrandt's success abruptly halted with the rise of the Nazi Party in 1933. His publication contracts were canceled, his books were censored, and ultimately he was dismissed from his teaching position under the occupational prohibition ( Berufungsverhandlung) of 1937 --issued against him because his wife Lily was Jewish. Their financial difficulties became more pressing after the death of Lily's parents in 1938 and the application of Juden-vermögensabgabe, which allowed confiscation of the property of Jewish citizens. The Hildebrandts survived from 1939-1940 on the royalties from Hans' publications and his lectures at the ETH in Zurich. In 1943 their son, Rainer Hildebrandt, was arrested as a conscientious objector and imprisoned under the charge of military subversion.

Immediately following the war, Hans resumed his teaching position and retired in 1948 with a reduced pension, requiring him to continue writing and publishing until his death in 1957. The most significant publication of this later period was his revised monograph on the artist Oskar Schlemmer,1952. Lily Hildebrandt remained a prominent figure in Stuttgart cultural life. She exhibited her own work in the 1961 exhibition "Hölzel und sein Kreis." Lily assisted her son in creating a compendium of her late husband's work and was a close companion of the sculptor Peter Fitz until her death in 1974.

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