Sir Nikolaus Pevsner

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Pevsner, Sir Nikolaus Bernhard Leon (1902–83). German-born British art-historian. He was a strong supporter of the Modern Movement, which gave some of his early writings an undoubted bias, notably the very influential Pioneers of the Modern Movement from William Morris to Walter Gropius (1936, later reissued as Pioneers of Modern Design) and the enormously successful (and again influential) An Outline of European Architecture (1942 with many subsequent editions). He had a powerful impact on the Architectural Review) in the 1940s, when it became a pro-Modern-Movement force, and changed the architectural climate of Britain. He originated and edited the Pelican History of Art (from 1953), one of the most impressive series on art and architecture published in C20. His greatest achievement was arguably the county-by-county guides of The Buildings of England (from 1951), much of which he wrote himself, although some of his highly subjective comments have been toned down in later editions. His distinguished collections of essays and papers published as Studies in Art, Architecture, and Design (1968) and A History of Building Types (1976) are mines of information. He was devoted to the study of the architecture (especially churches) of his adopted country, and made an incalculable contribution to scholarship. However, the notions he imbibed while a student at Leipzig (especially influenced by his teacher, Georg Maximilian Wilhelm Pinder (1878–1947—who was much respected by the National Socialists, not least for his over-estimation of German art in relation to other European countries) ), including his beliefs in the Zeitgeist (spirit of the age) and in ‘national character’, led him to presuppositions that perhaps distorted his sense of history. For example, he argued that among Gropius's architectural antecedents were members of the English Arts-and-Crafts Movement: this was typical of his attempts to create links with the past to promote his own heroes, for it is well-known that Arts-and-Crafts architects (e.g. Baillie Scott and Voysey) rejected Gropius and all he stood for. Gropius and his disciples did much to destroy traditional crafts-based building (despite Gropius's insistence (to Pevsner) that William Morris was one of his main sources of inspiration). Nevertheless, his many immense achievements deserve respect.


Bradley & and B. Cherry (2001);
B. Cherry (1998);
Draper (ed.) (2004);
Games (ed.) (2002);
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004);
Pevsner (1960, 1963, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1972, 1974, 1974a, 1976);
Jane Turner (1996);
D. Watkin (1977)

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PEVSNER, SIR NIKOLAUS (1902–1983), British architectural historian. Born in Leipzig, he studied at various German universities. After working as assistant keeper at the Dresden Art Gallery (1924–28) and as lecturer in art history and architecture at the University of Goettingen (1929–33), he emigrated to England when Hitler came to power. He was a lecturer and later (1959–69) professor of fine art at Birkbeck College, London, as well as Slade professor of fine art at Cambridge (1949–55) and professor of fine art at Oxford (1968–69), and was also an honorary fellow of St. John's College, Cambridge. Books such as his classic An Outline of European Architecture (1942) helped spread a knowledge of architectural history, and his Buildings of England series, published in many county volumes between 1958 and 1973, which called attention to the English architectural heritage, became one of the best-known series of works on Britain's heritage ever written. These made Pevsner a household name among educated people in Britain. Pevsner gave many talks on bbc radio, including the 1955 Reith Lecture. He was knighted in 1969. Pevsner was one among a surprising number of German Jewish refugees who not merely adapted to England but, in a sense, became British icons.


Hughes-Santon, in: Design, 222 (June, 1967), 56–57. add. bibliography: odnb online.

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Pevsner, Sir Nikolaus Bernhard Leon (1902–83). A German-born art historian, Pevsner came to Britain in 1934 as a refugee from Nazism. He lectured and wrote widely on art and architecture, was a founder member of the William Morris and Victorian societies, and Slade professor of fine art at Oxford and Cambridge, as well as professor of the history of art at Birkbeck College, London. Of his many publications, including the Pelican History of Art (begun 1953), the best known is The Buildings of England, which he began in 1949 and worked on for 21 years. Through these county guides he aimed to record every notable architectural object from the distant past to the present day to provide books of interest to travellers and to tell the story of England through her buildings. He achieved the status of ‘Look in Pevsner’, was made CBE in 1953, and knighted in 1969.

June Cochrane

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Sir Nikolaus Pevsner (pĕvz´nər), 1902–83, English architectural historian, b. Germany. Influenced by Heinrich Wölfflin, Pevsner contended in his many works that art must be considered within its historical and social context. For many years Pevsner was art editor of Penguin Books. He was knighted in 1969. His major works include An Outline of European Architecture (1942), Pioneers of Modern Design (2d ed. 1949), Mannerism to Romanticism (2 vol., 1968), A History of Building Types (1976), and The Buildings of England, a massive 46-volume series of studies of regional English architecture (1951–74).