British Art and the Mediterranean

The gradual clearance of my office has meant that I have been able to get to the cupboard which contains my copy of Fritz Saxl and Rudolph Wittkower’s book on British Art and the Mediterranean, a published record of a photographic exhibition held at the Imperial Institute in South Kensington and then travelling to more than eighteen cities, put together by the Warburg Institute in the early days of the Second World War in order ‘to observe in the arts of this country the agelong impact of the Mediterranean tradition on the British mind’ (Saxl had taken British citizenship in 1940, thanks to the support of Kenneth Clark who opened the exhibition on 2 December 1941, and Wittkower was entitled to British citizenship by an accident of his father’s birth).   I wanted to discover who had taken the photographs which I remember as being of the highest quality, stored in a filing cabinet of the Warburg Institute’s Photographic Collection (my first employer).   There were two photographers involved.   One was was Otto Fein, the Warburg’s in-house bookbinder-cum-photographer, who had emigrated with the Library, had worked with Saxl on a study of English Romanesque sculpture, and was also employed by the National Buildings Record under Wittkower’s supervision to take beautiful plate photographs of 10, Downing Street, the monuments of Westminster Abbey, Chiswick House and Greenwich Hospital (monuments mainly of the English classical tradition).   The other was Helmut Gernsheim, who was only released from internment in late 1941, so may only have supplied images to the book, not the exhibition.   He published New Photo Vision in 1942, based on the lectures he had given whilst interned in Australia, and became a leading historian of photography.

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