Julius Held (Mosbach, Germany, 13 April 1905 - Bennington, Vermont, 22 December 2002)
Julius Held, who died in December 2002 at the age of ninety-seven, was the leading Rubens scholar of his generation and as Christopher White wrote 'one of the last surviving members of that group of outstanding refugee scholars who so enriched and transformed the discipline of art history in the English speaking world'. A short, dynamic man, with a keen interest in sport, Held's contribution to the study of Rubens was massive indeed; the bibliography of his writings on the artist up to 1980 consists in some forty articles not to speak of the magisterial catalogue of the artist's oil sketches.
In the course of his long and distinguished academic career, he received many national and international honours, most notably the Mitchell Prize of 2000 for lifetime achievement. Three years earlier a lecture hall at Barnard College, Columbia University, New York, had been dedicated to him. This was the institution to which he remained attached for his whole career, becoming a Professor in 1954 and Chairman of the Art History Department in 1967. But he also held appointments at New York University, Yale University, Bryn Mawr College, the Institute for Advanced Study, the University of Pittsburgh and Williams College. In 1988 long after his retirement, he returned to his native town of Mosbach in Germany for the ceremony at which was installed a plaque commemorating the Jews of the town on the site of the synagogue that had been destroyed on Kristallnacht, 1938. Julius Held had played a major role in the creation of this memorial, for which he was awarded an honorary citizenship of the town two years later.
His career as art historian was inaugurated by the award of a doctorate summa cum laude from Heidelberg Universtity in 1930. In 1931 he became a junior curator under Max Frieldländer at the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum in Berlin, a post he relinguished three years later because of Nazi anti-semitism. Before that he had briefly studied picture restoration under Helmuth Ruhemann, one of the leading practitioners of the day. Julius Held's wife, Ingrid-Märta Pettersson, who died in 1986, was also a painting conservator. These this two facts were of significance in Held's career, for his work as an art historian was essentially object based; as Professor McGrath has written his 'enquiries centred on individual works of art and depended on contact with them; general questions and hypotheses were inspired by specific cases'.
His practical knowledge of works of art was well utilised in the advice he gave on acquisitions for the newly founded Museo de Arte Ponce from 1958. This Museum made a number of purchases of important pictures. It also found expression in his own personal collection, notably of drawings. Amy Golahny recalled that his advice to students as 'novice collectors was astute: acquire what pleases you, but bear in mind that drawings by major artists of gruesome martyrdoms might be more affordable than scenes more agreeable to contemplate'.
Held's earliest love was for Dutch art of the seventeenth century, in particular Rembrandt. His first publication on Rubens was in 1940 and gradually he established himself as pre-eminent in this field, first with his catalogue in collaboration with J.-A Goris of Rubens paintings in America. In 1956 followed his two volume catalogue Rubens Selected Drawings which has been described as 'one of the best books on any artist's drawings'.
It was not to be until 1980 that his greatest publication became available. He began work on the corpus of Rubens oil sketches in 1966, and the preface was signed - the task of compilation completed - in 1977. It consists in some five hundred entries with long introductions on the major commissions undertaken by the artist. This work constitutes as important a contribution to our knowledge of the artist as had Max Rooses' earlier, fundamental five volume catalogue of the finished paintings. Thus the name of Julius Held will remain forever associated with the art of Rubens, who was the 'constant, if silent house guest' - the third member of the 'ménage à trois' - that his wife had had to put up with over so many years.
Gregory Martin, Consultant, Old Master Pictures, London
JULIUS HELD - A DAUGHTER'S REMEMBRANCE
Anna Held Audette
I was brought up in a refined but somewhat restrictive household. My parents left Europe in the mid-thirties, my father from Germany and my mother from Sweden, and their customs (even their languages) formed the character of my and my younger brother's childhoods. Paintings and other works of art were very much part of our environment, in hallways, bedrooms, and even the bathrooms. The collection went well with the Swedish furniture my mother brought to this country. For us children our surroundings were perfectly ordinary, so while I knew the paintings were valuable and delicate, the knowledge didn't stop me from learning how to twirl my baton in the living room.
Having the collection at home, covering nearly every wall of our home on Claremont Avenue in New York, was a major part of the enrichment experience for me. I also accompanied my parents to galleries and occasional auctions, so I acquired a sense of what was important in old paintings. Our collection had great appeal to my parents' friends and colleagues, many of whom were outstanding figures in their own fields, and their parties were rather like salons, filled with interesting conversations and distinguished guests. It also brought me into contact with several living artists, such as Saul Baizerman and Leonard Baskin. Seeing where these people worked and hearing them talk about what they did was influential in terms of my own career.
Living as we did in the Barnard/Columbia neighborhood our apartment and family were secure islands of activities and projects. With so much art around it seemed natural that I should follow some aspect of it and develop my own skills. At first I wanted to be a conservator, like my mother, but a semester at NYU's Institute of Fine Arts persuaded me that applied science and fixing other artists' work was not for me. So I went to Yale for an MFA in painting and then taught printmaking at Southern Connecticut State University for 34 years. Sometime about mid-career I stopped making prints myself and became a painter. My own work found its way to my father's walls - in fact for most of my adult life at least one of my own prints or paintings hung in some prominent place near his desk so he could see it as he worked.
Like many northern European scholarly émigrés of his generation, my father was extraordinarily oriented towards his work and took the perquisites of his occupation quite seriously. Because he did what he did so well, he expected similar competence and application from his students and colleagues, and he had scant patience for light entertainment or even others' occupations outside of his own spheres of interest. Luckily, those spheres were not limited to art history, since he also followed politics and world affairs very closely. In fact, in his later years he developed a keen interest in professional tennis and once, several years after he finally retired, he even admitted to a fondness for Seinfeld.
Until I went to college, my father and I enjoyed daily contact with each other. My mother was a conservator whose main work was at the New York Historical Society. However, she carried the main load of running things at home - handling household affairs and crises while working at the same time, but with such grace that I never had a second thought about having a career and family of my own. My father's job was to infuse the place with ideas and high expectations.
For as long as I can remember, he collected paintings, drawings and, occasionally, sculpture. His interests were wide-ranging, and his collection was a gathering of works he found appealing (as opposed to being limited to a particular school, period or style). The collection reflects what he loved in all its variety. My brother and I recall that when he brought a piece home it was like welcoming a new friend. Like any collection ours evolved and changed as new opportunities (and a modest budget) dictated exchanges as well as purchases. As a university professor my father had a limited amount of money to spend on acquisition, so he sought out good paintings, not necessarily ones by great artists. But over time he had more discretionary funds, which allowed him to buy paintings like the Pieter Claesz. I had mixed feelings about that acquisition because it required that we lose a very good Molenaar. Of course, during the long span of his career my father developed very good relationships with important dealers, who in turn became familiar with his tastes and occasionally offered him accessible works which fit perfectly with the others at our apartment. As my father's reputation as an expert in Netherlandish and Northern European paintings grew, and especially as his authority on Rubens and Van Dyck became the standard in the field, he was often asked for opinions or to bolster other historians' attributions with his own expertise. But he did not accept attributions without scrupulous investigation and conferred them very seldom.
His passion for teaching required explanation, demonstration of relationships and serious engagement in problem solving with his graduate students. He was a notoriously hard grader; nevertheless those students who could measure up to his standards adored him. If a student was diligent, gifted and able to adopt my father's high expectations, a mutual respect was born which lasted a lifetime.
In 1940 my parents bought an old farm in Southern Vermont, high on a hillside with a marvelous view. Long summers in Vermont thanks to my father's academic timetable made me think three month vacations were the norm. My mother's main studio was in New York, but her work was essentially portable - a painting or two at a time, so she could summer at the farm without missing work, and my father read and worked on articles in his office in the barn.
After his retirement as Chairman of the Art History Department at Barnard my father and mother moved to Bennington, Vermont, where he carried on his studies at the Clark Art institute and taught graduate candidates at Williams College. He brought his own library to Bennington, which gradually grew to more than four thousand volumes and contained countless journals and catalogs. My father came to feel that the collection, in its diversity, quirkiness and occasional piece of real significance, reflected his own character. He always thought of it as a single entity composed of many parts, and he urged the family to think of it as a cohesive structure. The last thing he wanted would have been for his children to disburse it in fragments over an extended period. So, although we have held back some favorite items, this auction is the culmination of his wishes.