By Professor Sybille Moser-Ernst (University of Innsbruck)
E.H.Gombrich was the most influential art historian of the twentieth century. His innocent sounding Story of Art provided a robust framework which millions throughout the world would use to understand one of man’s most important activities.
Reflection suggests the observation that the historiography of Art History – in Austria - has some difficulty in evaluating his position or even just placing him.
Art and Illusion and other scholarly publications persuaded academic art historians to rethink many of the cosy assumptions on which their conservative field was built. They also brought renewal in areas of philosophy and psychology. These achievements were obscured in the last decades of his life by a wave of fashion, but this has now receded leaving the rocks of his achievement standing out as landmarks in the history not just of art but of culture.
The hypothesis on which the analytical research by Sybille Moser-Ernst is founded is that Gombrich’s epistemological approach was developed during the years of his collaboration with Ernst Kris on the so-called ‘Caricature Manuscript’ and especially in the period from 1936 to 1952. Portrait-caricature, as an independent genre, was understood by Gombrich to be distinct from satire and cartoon. Moser-Ernst’s research is done in the context of basic ‘bildwissenschaftliche’ questions.
Gombrich regarded himself as a Viennese art historian.* In the context of the intellectual milieus in the Vienna of the Zwischenkriegszeit we can find the causes for Gombrich’s very pronounced philosophical insights and for his standpoint with regard to the various concepts of memory and history in the consequence.
*The bonmot by E.H.Gombrich „there was no Vienna School of Art History, there were only Viennese pupils“ was quoted by Werner Hofmann at the very beginning of the retrospect Conference 2002 in Vienna (Wiener Schule und die Zukunft der Kunstgeschichte, 3.-6.10.2002). Hofmann sensibly tried to balance the many resentiments and the problematic handling of the creation of a tradition of a „New Vienna School of Art History“ by giving Gombrich a place in the chorus of different voices; see Joseph Imorde: Werte und Verwertungen - Die Wiener Schule und die Zukunft der Kunstgeschichte (3.-6. Oktober 2002), Pressespiegel, http://www.univie.ac.at/kunstgeschichte-tutorium/wienerschule/pr... Publiziert: Joseph Imorde, Werte und Verwertungen - Die Wiener Schule und die Zukunft der Kunstgeschichte, in: Kunstchronik, Heft 1 Januar (2003).