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Hitchcock, Henry-Russell

Date born: 1903

Place born: Boston, MA

Date died: 1987

Place died: New York, NY

Architectural historian and Smith College professor; coined the term “International School” of modern architecture. Hitchcock attended the Middlesex School and Harvard University. At Harvard he wrote for the avant garde newspaper Hound & Horn which Lincoln Kirstein (1907-1996) had founded. There he also met the group of young intellectuals who would launch modernism in the United States. Among them were A. Everett “Chick” Austin, Philip Johnson, the musicologist Virgil Thomson (1896-1989), and Edward Warburg. Hitchcock received his A. B. in 1924 and M.A. in 1927. Alfred H. Barr, Jr. asked Hitchcock to mount a show on modern architecture at the Museum of Modern Art, together with Johnson. Johnson and Hitchcock traveled to Germany in 1930 to study modern architecture for the Museum of Modern art. The show, called “The International Style,” launched the term applied to Bauhaus-style architecture. The exhibition and book were revolutionary because it drew from social thinkers, such as Lewis Mumford as much as art and architectural (stylistic) theory. Hitchcock was director of the Smith College Museum of Art from 1949 to 1955. He was asked by Nikolaus Pevsner to write the volumen on modern architecture for the Pelican History of Art series, which appeared as Architecture: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries in 1958. In 1968, he moved to a town house on the Upper East Side of New York City, teaching at the New York University Institute of Fine Arts. His 1976 book, Temples of Democracy, written with William Seale, was a critical/historical view of American state capitols. In 1984, he publicly and strongly criticized Peter Palumbo's plan to build a Mies van der Rohe skyscraper in London. He died of cancer at age 83. His students included Vincent Scully [at Yale, though he did not have a permanent appointment there].

Hitchcock was a founding member of the Victorian Society and a former president of the Victorian Society of America. His books on Victorian architecture helped to rehabilitate a neglected field. As an architectural historian, he remained noticeable apart from the debates of post-modernism. David Watkin termed Hitchcock’s scholarly work “thorough and workman-like though lacking in the kind of conceptual or intellectual interest which characterizes the work of German-inspired art historians.” Hitchcock’s methodology viewed the individual as the shaper of architecture more than broad social forces. His architectural histories focused on the formal aspects of buildings rather than on political, economic or social phenomenon. Architectural history for him was genealogical, a linear progression architects, (both major and minor) directly influence each other and the discipline. Hitchcock was criticized especially in later years, for failing to situate buildings in their larger context. His methodology contrasted the ideological/political approach of contemporaries, such as Donald Drew Egbert. LS

Home Country: United States

Sources: Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Modern Perspectives in Western Art History: An Anthology of 20th-Century Writings on the Visual Arts. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971, p. 51, 70 cited; Watkin, David. The Rise of Architectural History. London: Architectural Press, 1980, pp. 41-43, 173, 179; Goldberger, Paul. “Honoring an Inspirational Historian.” The New York Times March 20, 1983, p. 33, Summerson and Hitchcock: Centenary Essays on Architectural Historiography. New Haven, CT: Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, Yale Center for British Art /Yale University Press, 2006; [obituaries:] The Times (London) March 9 1987; Giovanni, Joseph. The New York Times February 20, 1987, p. B 6.

Bibliography: and Johnson, Philip. The International Style: Architecture since 1922. New York: W. W. Norton & company, 1932; The Architecture of H. H. Richardson and his Ttimes. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1936; In the Nature of the Materials: 1887-1941: The Buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright. New York: Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1942; The Crystal Palace: the Structure, its Antecedents and its Immediate Progeny. Northampton, MA: Smith College, 1951; Architecture: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Baltimore: Penguin Books 1958; Richardson as a Victorian Architect. Baltimore: Smith College/Barton-Gillet Co., 1966; German Rococo: the Zimmermann Brothers. London: Allen Lane, 1968; German Renaissance Architecture. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981.

Subject's name: Henry-Russell Hitchcock