J. P. HODIN: A Bridge Between Europe And Britain

Fig 1

Joseph Paul Hodin (1905–1995), photographer unknown. Tate Archive © Tate

 

Best known as an international art critic, art historian and the biographer of Oskar Kokoschka, Czech-born Joseph Paul Hodin contributed numerous essays on art and aesthetics to publications between the 1930s and the 1990s, advocating bridging continental and British modernisms. This paper is based on the Tate Archive holdings on J. P. Hodin and was initially written for Tate Papers, highlighting some of his international collaborations in his work as one of the key postwar European critics.

 


 

J. P. HODIN : A BRIDGE BETWEEN EUROPE AND BRITAIN

 

In this age of ours, when true greatness is sometimes eclipsed by the ceaseless activities of innumerable ‘specialized’ intellectuals, it is the moral duty of an honest searcher for truth to give man a measuring rod for the essentially genuine and outstanding achievements in the field of the philosophy of art.

– J.P. Hodin [1]

If there is a single idea that unites the complex archive of the art critic J.P. Hodin, which includes critical writings, lectures, notes and correspondence, it is the idea of the Zeitgeist, of giving voice to the consciousness of one’s time. Rather than focusing on any one particular artist, work, or period of art history, Hodin’s writing primarily reflects a methodology that sought to illuminate the artistic presence within its times. What he called the enigma, or the dilemma, of modern art was, to paraphrase the critic Jerry Saltz, ‘a link to a new vision and the vision itself’, a method of seeing and knowing humanity that he felt was constantly changing, remembering and reproducing itself.

Joseph Paul Hodin was born in Prague on 17 August 1905 into a German-Czech Jewish family. His father, Edouard David Hodin, was a photographer. At his father’s insistence, Hodin studied Law at Charles University in Prague. His true interest, however, lay in literature and philosophy. After graduating from university in 1929 he turned his attentions to the history of art and the general history of culture; first at the Art Academy in Dresden in 1931, and then at Berlin between 1932–3.

Although he was schooled at the best art academies across Europe, Hodin’s real education perhaps came from the time he spent in artists’ studios. There he began his investigation into the creative mind, observing the German writer Goethe’s dictum ‘to investigate what is, and not what suits us’. [1]  While in Dresden, he regularly met with artists at the cafés Zunst, Kaiser and Rumpelmayer, and discussed art, philosophy, music and dance; or visited the studios of Otto Dix (1891–1969), Otto Griebel (1895–1972), Hermann Richter (1875–1941) and his childhood friend, the painter Paul Berger-Bergner (1904–1978).

This was the atmosphere in which the young Hodin, who dreamt of becoming a poet, met his first wife, the Swedish modern dancer Birgit Åkesson (1908–2001), with whom he moved to Berlin. Having already published his early articles and poems in Prague, Hodin continued to cultivate his artistic circle of friends while in Berlin. Hodin maintained contact with the Czech author Johannes Urzidil (at the time the press attaché at the German Embassy in Prague, who also connected him to the publishers Kiepenheuer); Rudi Thomas, then the editor of Prager Tageblatt; Joseph Laurin, editor of the Prager Presse; the authors Richard Katz and Arnold Höllriegel, and many others. He also submitted writing to the German publications Berliner Tageblatt, Die Neue Rundschau and the Querschnitt. Between 1933–5 he spent two unhappy years in Paris, where he worked as a reader for the publishing house Orbis. Escaping Paris before the arrival of Nazism, Hodin settled in Stockholm, where he joined the Czechoslovakian Resistance movement, remaining there until the end of the war.

Fig 2

A selection of journals in which J.P. Hodin published articles 1940s–1960s. Tate Archive © Tate

 

This is when his prolific career as an art critic truly started. He wrote articles for the Swedish art reviews Konstrevy, Ord och Bild, Form, Paletten, as well as the periodical Kunst og Kultur in Oslo. Hodin’s first books on art were published in Swedish but over the length of his career he published articles in nearly every international art periodical in Europe  and he frequently wrote for publications in North and South America, India, and Japan. In his essay ‘The Empirical Approach to Aesthetic Problems in Modern Art’, Hodin summarised the method and character of his approach: ‘To participate in the occurring changes in art not only by way of contemplating the works but through contact with artists, and this through step by step process of factual, comparative and in-depth psychological investigation which mirrors the processes employed in natural sciences’. [2]

In the spirit of empirical research Hodin conducted meticulous comparative analyses of artists, their ideas and aims. He observed the formal aspects of the work itself – the figurative and suggestive methods used – but also readily applied psychological analysis that helped him elucidate the artist’s perceived inner motives, leading to new dialogues and formative concepts for emerging artistic practices. In ‘The Empirical Approach’, he wrote:

‘In a time which has produced the formula of non-art, all aesthetic valuation seems to be excluded a priori simply because there are no common standards … What the aesthetician has to contend with in relation to modern creativeness is a day to day existence, the only consolation for his urge to clarify, to order, to define, being that art is a mirror of life and that in an earthquake area one cannot apply the rule of the Golden section’.[3]

After the war Hodin became more and more interested in the nature of the creative mind and the part it played in re-formulating values in a much changed and changing Europe. While in Stockholm, he worked on monographs on various Scandinavian artists – Edvard Munch (which was first published in Stockholm in 1948 and reprinted in Frankfurt am Main in 1951), Isaac Grünewald (published 1949), Sven Erixson (published 1940) and Ernst Josephson (published 1942) ¬ – while continuing to review Czech and German artists and thinkers for Scandinavian publications. Among his published works from this period are essays on the seventeenth-century Czech educator and philosopher Jan Amos Comenius, the composer Bedřich Smetana, and the humanist Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, an advocate of Czechoslovakian independence during the First World War, who, after the abolition of the monarchy, became the founder and the first president of Czechoslovakia.

Fig 3

Listy ze Severy, Stockholm (1943). Tate Archive © Tate

 

During his time in Sweden, Hodin was on the editorial board of the Czechoslovakian review Pages from the North (Listy ze Severy) that was published in Stockholm during the Second World War. It published works by various Czech, Slovak and less frequently Scandinavian, writers, poets and artists. The cover of the first issue was illustrated by a work by the Czech painter Mikoláš Aleš (1852–1913), and printed below was the journal’s internationalist credo: ‘to spread the meaning of art and literary works for the life of every nation.’ The issue included illustrations of the works of such artists as Endre Nemes (1909–1985, Hungarian), Emil Filla (1882–1953, Czech), and Vaclav Špála (1885–1946, Czech). Filla was a leader of the avant-garde movement in Czechoslovakia between the wars, and produced some of the earliest Cubist sculptures. He survived Dachau and Grunewald concentration camps, and died in Prague in 1953. Hodin continued to write about the many artists showcased in Pages from the North throughout his career, writing frequently about Bauernfreund and publishing monographs on Ruszkowski (published in London in 1967), Paul Berger-Bergner (Hamburg, 1974), Friedrich Karl Gotsch (Geneva, 1986) and Jan Brazda (Hamburg, 1989).

Fig 8

Listy ze Severy, Stockholm (1943). Tate Archive © Tate.

 

During the late 1930s, while living in Stockholm, Hodin also wrote about French and Scandinavian artists for the Czech journal Free Directions (Volné Směry), contributing from 1937–39. He introduced the work of Gauguin to his Czechoslovak readership, and published a review of the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch. He had first met Munch during 1938, a year after Munch’s retrospective at the Academy of Arts in Stockholm. He later described this meeting in his essay ‘The Forerunner’ published in The Dilemma of Being Modern (1956):

“1938. The creator of the Frieze of Life was almost blind. He had completely lost the sight of one eye a year before through the bursting of a blood vessel that flooded the eyeball, and now the other was threatened in the same way, as a result of one of the severe illnesses which had so often endangered his life. The seventy-five-year-old artist had for months been confined to his sick bed, unable to lift a finger to give the much desired finishing touches to the vast edifice of his life’s work.” [4]

In later years Hodin would frequently return to Munch’s work, not least in his lectures at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London during the 1950s. But the immediacy and poignancy of mortality witnessed by Hodin in his meeting with the artist is what he would always draw upon in discussing Munch. This was their first and last meeting: Munch fell victim to bronchitis and died before the end of the war. Hodin’s own parents did not survive the Second World War. The foreboding was present in his writing, as was his awareness of loneliness and timelessness of creativity.

Hodin came to England in 1944, working as a press attaché to the Norwegian government in exile and as an adviser for the Czechoslovakian foreign office in London. He married Doris Pamela Simms in 1945 and abandoned diplomatic service in order to return to his calling as an art critic and historian. In March 1949 he was appointed the first Librarian and Director of Studies of the Institute of Contemporary Arts, a position he held until 1954. At the invitation of Professor Anthony Blunt, Hodin lectured at the Courtauld Institute of Art in the summer of 1949, and in the same year began to give talks at the Arts Council of Great Britain and the Institute of Contemporary Arts. In April 1951 he enrolled at the Courtauld as a postgraduate student with the intention of completing a doctorate.

 

Fig 10

Hodin’s manuscript of his lecture notes and notice advertising the series ‘A Course in Contemporary Art; An Analysis of its Basis and its Place in Art History’, held at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London from 1951. Tate Archive © Tate

 

In 1951 Hodin gave a series of lectures at the Institute of Contemporary Art, called ‘A Course in Contemporary Art. An Analysis of its Basis and its Place in Art History’, in which he reviewed the development of continental modernism through the works of figures such as Munch, Paul Klee (1879–1940), Emil Nolde (1867–1956), Max Beckmann (1884–1950), Oskar Kokoschka (1886–1980) and others. In the first lecture, ‘The Unity of Arts. The Idea of Gesamtkunstwerk’, Hodin commented:

‘Modern art is primary cognition, the findings of which, often highly specialised and elaborated on an analytical basis, are organised into a new visual order. Linking up with a tradition of its own choice, of universal significance and without any limitation in time and thus breaking with the chronological tradition generally acknowledged in art history, it strives for a synthesis in the work of the individual artist as well as through the mutual influence of its different trends upon one another; a many faceted process moving towards a new unitary concept, a new artistic totality, in other words, a style.’ [5]

Fig 11

The Central European Observer, London 1945–7. Tate Archive © Tate

 

Hodin’s connection to Czechoslovakia did not end when he settled in London. His ideas about post-war reconstruction were presented in an article titled ‘Jan Amos Comenius in England’, written for The Central European Observer in 1945. The Central European Observer had been printed in Prague from 1923 to the end of 1938. Published in English, it dealt with science, art, literature and industry, with contributors from across Central and Eastern Europe. After Czech universities and cultural and scientific institutions lost their independence in 1938, The Central European Observer was suspended, but in 1940 it was published again in London, this time as a fortnightly journal. Its aim was ‘to study, as it had done in Prague, the problems of the Danube basin with special attention to the peaceful collaboration of peoples inhabiting it, in the new Europe which must arise from the present cataclysm’. [6] Cultural connectedness of the Danube basin, and other connections forged regionally, were the foundation for the program of research by Jan Amos Comenius (1592–1670) three hundred years earlier. Considered by some to be the father of modern education, Comenius was ordained to the Protestant ministry of the Moravian Brethren where he became a pastor. His main secular interest, however, was continuing the contemporary English scholar Francis Bacon’s attempt to organise all human knowledge. Comenuis published his first textbook, Janua Linguarum Reserata (The Gate of Languages Unlocked), in 1631. When Czechoslovakia lost its independence in 1620, Comenius and other educators continued their work in exile. He was considered the forerunner of the philosophers Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, and during the Czech National Revival of the nineteenth century, Czechoslovakians revered Comenius as their national symbol. As Hodin pointed out in his article, Comenius’s striving for unification of nations and religious confessions, his work on an international university, and the establishment of the principle of universal arbitration made an important forerunner of those who in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries sought pan-Slavic unification. Comenius’s faith in youth and his dedication to learning inspired Hodin. A quote from Comenius’s ‘The Angel of Peace’ (presented at the Breda peace conference between England and the Netherlands in 1667) prefaces one of Hodin’s essays on Oskar Kokoschka: ‘It is not possible to stem evil but by turning away from evil; for an itch is not cured by scratching, as Plato remarked. Therefore neither are wars put to an end by warfare, quarrels by quarrelling, persecution by persecution, but by reversing all these things.’ [7]

By 1945, Hodin was a friend of the Austrian émigré artist Oskar Kokoschka, whom he met for the second time in London in 1939 (the first time, in 1934, he only caught a glimpse of the artist in a hotel lobby in Prague). Kokoschka was also familiar with the writings of Comenius. As a child in Vienna, he was given the illustrated children’s textbook Orbis Picus (The Visible World) by his father, and later made paintings based on the book. In his portrait of Thomas Garrigue Masaryk from 1936, Kokoschka painted the first Czechoslovakian president with the Prague landscape over his right shoulder, and Jan Comenius on his left. For Kokoschka, the greatest revolution of mankind was the moment of recognition of Comenius’s work during the enlightenment. The artist was also an educator, or strived to be one, and when offered a place as a director of the School of Industrial Art in Vienna, he made a condition of his acceptance a humanistic reform of Austrian public schools – to no reply. Kokoschka resigned from his membership of the Prussian Academy of Science and Art in protest against the dismissal of the artists Käthe Kollwitz and Max Liebermann. Soon he would leave Germany and Austria, giving up his Austrian nationality in protest to the ‘Anschluss’, and spent the rest of his life as a European with a Czech passport. By the time he painted his portrait of Masaryk in Prague, after years of conversations with the president, he did it with knowledge of their mutual ethical bond, of believing in peace and union as Officina Humanitatis (Workshop of Humanity). [8] In a note about the nature of visions and images written in 1911 and given to Hodin, Kokoschka wrote: ‘The determining feature is life, its essence, is the consciousness of the image. Consciousness is the cause of all things, even ideas. It is the sea whose horizons are images. Consciousness of images is not a condition in which we recognize or comprehend things, but a state in which consciousness experiences itself’.[9]

During the early post-war period, Hodin was an active participant at the international congresses of Art Criticism and Aesthetics organised by the Association Internationale des Critiques d’art (AICA). According to Vladimir Vanek’s biography of Hodin, at the eighth congress of the AICA in Oxford, Hodin was nominated ‘reporteur general’ and his motion in favour of allowing foreign immigrant artists to participate in international exhibitions was accepted. [10]  This was an achievement that affected the careers of émigré artists living in the United Kingdom and created an international precedent. Hodin continued to champion immigrant artists from his youth: Erich Kahn (who then had a studio in London next to more famous Frank Auerbach), Jakob Bornfriend, Ludwig and Else Meidner (who lived close to Hodin in Hampstead), the group Eight (Osma) in Prague, Alfred Aberdam, Endre Nemes, Marie-Louise Motesiczky, Friedrich Karl Gotsch and others. The transcripts of his interviews with these artists are almost as remarkable in their insights as are his critical essays. Hodin’s friendship with Else and Ludwig Meidner is well documented in the Tate archive. One of the key German expressionist painters, Ludwig Meidner arrived in England in 1939 and was interned at the Hutchinson camp before moving with his wife to Hampstead, where he remained almost completely unacknowledged until his return to East Germany in 1953. Hodin’s conversations with the Meidners – both artists but of very different sensibilities – led to widening the recognition of their work in England.

 

Fig 12

J.P. Hodin’s brochure from the AICA Congress in Poland 1975. Tate Archive © Tate

 

Fig 13

Herbert Read and J.P. Hodin at the Venice Biennale 1956, personal photos of J.P. Hodin. Tate Archive © Tate

 

Although never a household name in England, Hodin became increasingly recognised abroad. In 1954 he won the first international prize for art criticism at the Venice Biennale for his writings on surrealism and the painting of artist Francis Bacon. In 1956, Hodin wrote the catalogue essays for the Venice Biennale presenting the four young British artists: John Bratby, Edward Middleditch, Jack Smith and Derrick Greaves. Throughout the 1950s, he was one of the editors of Paris-based Prisme des Arts, and a co-editor of the Belgian art periodical Quadrum in 1956. On the occasion of Hodin’s sixtieth birthday in 1965, a tribute seminar was held at the Goethe Institute in London. The proceedings, edited by Walter Kern and published as J.P. Hodin, European Critic: Essays, contains specially-written critical texts by seventeen artists, art historians and critics as an homage to Hodin’s work on international and émigré art.

Hodin was also a keen critic of British post-war art. Through his life he remained in touch with the artists of the St Ives group, and wrote monographs on Henry Moore (published 1956), Ben Nicholson (published 1957) and Barbara Hepworth (published 1961), and Bernard Leach, alongside a large body of critical texts and reviews. In her letter (handwritten, date not preserved) Barbara Hepworth expressed her thanks to Hodin in the warmest terms:

‘I want to thank you, dearest Paul, for a most creative period working with you. The greatest attribute of sculpture, for me, is the sense of continuity – & of being inspired by your own creativeness the whole of the past is now located in the present, & in the future for me. Through your perceptions I am set free & no longer entangled by unformed and unspoken thoughts. It is a good feeling & will flow into new work’.[11]

Fig 14

J.P. Hodin’s article on Henry Moore, annotated by the author. Výtvarné Umění, 1958. Tate Archive © Tate

 

Hodin encouraged artists to participate in changes that were occurring around them, to understand that everything that is believed today will be different tomorrow or thought differently elsewhere. Writing for Fine Art (Výtvarné Umění) in Prague in 1958, Hodin introduced the monumental sculpture of Henry Moore to a Czech readership, focusing on the artist’s figures in space but also introducing his first and only brick relief, Wall Relief No.1, created for Bouwcentrum in Rotterdam in 1955.

As an art critic, Hodin possessed the sense of urgency that he lacked as a biographer. In his essays and in his book The Dilemma of Being Modern (1956), he spoke against what he saw as the fear and nihilism expressed by the modern generation of artists and thinkers, such as Weininger, Kafka, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and Sartre. He denounced the hopelessness and obscurantism that refused to strive to better and free humanity. Driven by the idea of regeneration, Hodin wrote about overcoming human inadequacy, of recognising the harmony which he believed could prevail despite suffering. It was the sign of true art, he believed, not only to express this suffering but also to produce a catharsis. His daughter Annabel Hodin remembers: ‘Modest in face of other creators, [Hodin] knew who he was, and wanted to use his life for what he felt was passionately needed after the war – to wake up to the humanity that we all share.’[12]

In the essay ‘Goethe’s Succession’, included in his treaty on aesthetics The Dilemma of Being Modern, Hodin writes that:

‘We worked out a new formula, putting our time into quarantine. There was, we said, a world of human beings, surrounding us on all sides, hemming us in, and there was a world of creation, from which we were kept away by these same human beings with their present senseless bustling, their ant-like whirlwind activity. So there was a dualism, with only a faint notion of possibility of bridging it. And where was this possibility? Not yet in the consciousness, but in the vital force in each of us, which was beginning to assert itself in self-defence’. [13]

This commitment to a living and striving human presence places Hodin the art critic in a particularly dynamic role. He acted as a ready conduit that connected different levels of cognizance through aesthetic and psychological analysis and critical force, sensitivity to language and locality, and an incessant international activity that led his friend and art historian Vladimir Vanek to describe him as a ‘bee that carries from one country to another the germs of creative thought’. [14] These germs of thought, derived from direct experience of art in the making and a strong connectedness with his time, are what makes Hodin’s legacy exceptional. He was passionate about the history of ideas and approached aesthetic questions from a distinctively European point of view, shaped by the writings of Goethe and Schiller, the ideas of Freud and Jung; the unitarian principles of Masaryk and Comenius; and the critical writings of the Czech art critic F.X. Šalda. But most importantly, Hodin’s viewpoint was forged in conversations with artists.

The significance of Hodin’s pan-European network becomes apparent in the light of recent scholarly interest in the Cold War connections between artists, art historians, curators and critics, who persevered in maintaining awareness of each other’s work, despite political restrictions. [15] This research explores the informal exchange and communication strategies among artists in the Eastern Bloc during the 1960s and 1970s. Hodin was active immediately before the political divide of the Cold War, when some artists, historians and critics from Eastern and Central Europe were still attracted by the ideas of pan-Europeanism and pan-Slavism, and believed in re-establishing the spiritual unity of Europe in the aftermath of the two world wars. Awareness of human failure was the precipice but also the point of departure for Hodin’s writing. As an émigré art historian who had lived in Czechoslovakia, Germany, France, Sweden and Belgium before finally settling in England in 1944, Hodin had insight into artistic and intellectual circles across Europe, and became aware early on in his career of the need to maintain a working connection with artists in both East and West Europe in order to be able to represent them truthfully. Hodin’s exposure to different communities of artists, and his commitment to what he called ‘living art criticism’ addressed at culturally, nationally and socially specific audiences, complicated his analytical assessment of the times. In his essay ‘Problems of Living Art Criticism’, he commented:

‘The productive contact of the critic with living art is of such importance because the art life we experience provides our only means of learning how artistic creativeness usually takes place, how the mind of the artist works, how traditional values are given new, unexpected shapes – briefly, because, from life, we glean experiences by which we can test the truth of theories and hypotheses. It necessarily follows that living art criticism must seek contact not only with the work of art and its impression on present day people, but also with the artist, the living author of the work’.[16]

Notes:

[1] J.P. Hodin, ‘Goethe’s Succession’, The Dilemma of Being Modern, London 1956, p.161.

[2] J.P. Hodin, ‘The Empirical Approach to Aesthetic Problems in Modern Art’, typeset essay probably delivered as a lecture, Tate Archive TGA 200062.

[3] Ibid.

[4] J.P. Hodin, ‘Edvard Munch’, The Dilemma of Being Modern, London 1956, p.24.

[5] J.P. Hodin, ‘The Unity of Arts. The Idea of Gesamtkunstwerk’, a lecture held as a part of the series ‘A Course in Contemporary Art; An Analysis of its Basis and its Place in Art History’, the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London 1951.

[6] Nature, 17 February 1940, pp.145, 258–9.  http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v145/n3668/abs/145258d0.html

[7] J.P. Hodin, ‘The Expressionists’, The Dilemma of Being Modern, London 1956, p.73.

[8] Officina Humanitas is Comenius’ concept of a school as a manufactory or workshop of humanity, the first philosophy of education.

[9] Oskar Kokoschka, typescript letter, Tate Archive, TGA 200062.

[10] Vladimir Vanek, ‘Joseph Paul Hodin: A Biographical Study’, in Walter Kern (ed.), J. P. Hodin, European Critic: Essays. London 1965, p.99.

[11] Barbara Hepworth, handwritten note to J. P. Hodin, date unknown. Tate Archive TGA 200062.

[12] Alexandra Lazar’s conversation with Annabel Hodin, 4 February 2011.

[13] J. P. Hodin, ‘Goethe’s Succession’, p. 160, first published as ‘Art Criticism’, Stockholm 1943.

[14] Vanek, 1965, p.83.

[15] See for example the symposium ‘Networks and Sociability in East European Art’ by Maja and Reuben Fawkes and Klara Kemp-Welch, the Courtauld Institute of Arts, 23 October 2010, and Klara Kemp-Welch’s ‘Networking the Bloc: Rethinking International Relations in European Art’, the Courtauld Institute of Art.

[16] J.P. Hodin, ‘Problems of Living Art Criticism’, The Dilemma of Being Modern, London 1956, pp.220–1.

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