Archive for the ‘ People ’ Category

Mr Troup Horne presents his compliments

G. F. Troup Horne

G. F. Troup Horne

One of the gifts of google to the biographer is the ability suddenly to put a face to someone who has just been a name.  Birkbeck College has put online a collection of its historical photographs, and amongst them is an image of George Francis Troup Horne, who was Secretary to the college and Clerk to its Governors from 1919 to 1952.

He was also one of the most significant contacts of Pevsner’s life, in that it was Troup Horne,  a neighbour in Hampstead, who seems to have suggested to Birkbeck that they might use Pevsner as a lecturer during the war, when many of the college’s regular staff had been called up. Pevsner’s first lecture at Birkbeck, early in 1940, was entitled ‘Enjoyment of Architecture’. By the time he gave his second, he had been briefly interned as an enemy alien and spent an equal number of months clearing the remains of bombed buildings from the streets of North London.

Photo: Herbert Mason

The first talk was not followed by any offer of regular employment, and Pevsner’s second appearance was not in Birkbeck’s lecture hall but on its roof – again, probably thanks to Troup Horne. After the devastating fire bombing of the City on December 29, 1940 – the ‘second Fire of London’ – compulsory firewatching was introduced. Standing between Chancery Lane and Fetter Lane, Birkbeck  – then in Bream’s Buildings –  had been lucky to escape the worst of the damage in the City and it was now anxious to comply with the regulations. Pevsner was signed up, and saw it as a welcome release from rubble-shovelling: ‘It is by no means the kind of return to academic surroundings that one would fancy,’ he wrote, ‘but it is a decided improvement’.

Bream's Buildings

Troup Horne also took his turn on the roof, and seems to have put the time to good use. A portly man, he was an excellent cook and selected members of the college would sometimes receive a welcome invitation: ‘Mr Troup Horne presents his compliments and has prepared a pigeon pie’.

Troup Horne would feature again as a mentor after the war, this time as one of the four sponsors of Pevsner’s naturalisation as a British citizen. He is commemorated in London I: the Cities of London and Westminster, published in 1957, four years after his death: ‘To the memory of G. F. Troup Horne and the nights of 1941-1944 at the old Birkbeck College in Bream’s Buildings’.


Buildings of England encapsulated

Illustration by Gerald Nason

'With Pevsner in England' - drawing by Gerald Nason, 1984

On the Bibliography page of my website I have used – with the kind permission of the artist, Gerald Nason – a marvellous drawing of Pevsner, composer of The Buildings of England, which is itself composed of a multitude of the buildings. (Click on the image to see it reproduced at a size where you can appreciate the detail.) The drawing originally appeared in the Architectural Review in October 1984 accompanying an article by Professor Robert Harbison entitled ‘With Pevsner in England’.

The Buildings of England - a CelebrationYou will also find the drawing reproduced in Bridget Cherry and Simon Bradley’s ‘The Buildings of England: a Celebration’. That volume was compiled to mark fifty years of the BoE series – now coming up to its 60th anniversary.

Pevsner and the spirit of the ant

Crematogaster distans r. pevsnerae

Pevsner did not greatly care for the methods of Auguste Forel, the Swiss psychiatrist to whom his mother regularly turned when depression overcame her. ‘The whole cure was wrapped in secrecy… The room, the techniques of suggestion and hypnosis – we had no way of knowing about them,’ he wrote later.

Nika c. 1912

Forel – Nobel laureate, socialist, teetotaller, and an expert on sexual problems – was also a leading authority on the behaviour of the ant. He was impressed by the grim resolution of the younger Pevsner and in 1912 paid him (or his mother) the compliment of his own sub-species: Cremastogaster [sic] distans r. pevsnerae, a Venezuelan version of a type of ant found from Texas to Argentina. ‘Plus petite que l’espèce typique,’ according to Forel, at 2.8 – 3.2 millimetres long.

Where’s Pevsner?

Pevsner’s architectural excursions were notorious for their length and strenuousness. As often as not they were designed to take in a cathedral or two – but where is Pevsner this time? and who is he with? Do let me know if you can place him, or identify any of the faces. Or, especially, if any of them is you.

Art Thug

Oskar Kokoschka, self-portrait 1917 © Fondation Oskar Kokoschka/VBK, Wien 2008

 In later life, had Pevsner ever compiled a single contacts list it would have read like a ‘Who’s Who’ of the world of art history, with supplementary entries branching beyond art, architecture and academia into politics, planning and philosophy. Many of these contacts came through his activities as a campaigner for conservation and a representative of the arts on public bodies, and his social life as a Grand Old Man of art history. Some, however, dated back to his earliest years. 


Oskar Kokoschka, for instance, he may well have met at the age of eight, at the house of  Auguste Forel in the Swiss village of Yvorne, south-west of Lake Geneva. (Hear Kokoschka talking about his life.) 

Forel, a fanatical teetotaller, socialist and authority on the behaviour of the ant, was also a sexologist and psychiatrist, whom Pevsner’s mother consulted regularly. So dependent did she become on him that she persuaded her husband to let her buy a cottage near his house, to which she took the children on holiday visits. She was there in January 1910 when Forel was visited by ‘a mad young painter’. Kokoschka had been brought to Switzerland by the architect Adolf Loos, whose plan was for him to paint portraits of titled consumptives and other wealthy individuals seeking cures in Swiss clinics. 

Auguste Forel portrait by Kokoschka, 1910. Photo Kunsthalle Mannheim.

 Whether or not this scheme worked, Kokoschka certainly painted Forel himself.  (An intriguing article by two Dublin gerontologists explores the relationship between the painter and his subject, and suggests that the portrait predicts the strokes that Forel was shortly to suffer.) 

Although Pevsner did not much enjoy the atmosphere at Yvorne, he would remember the family link with Kokoschka. Fifteen years later when he was working as an unpaid assistant at the Gemaldegalerie in Dresden and making a little money on the side as a freelance art critic for the Dresdner Anzeiger, Kokoschka was one of the artists whose work he praised most highly. What Pevsner valued in Expressionism was what he later described as ‘the direct outpouring of feelings which is often so uncomfortable to English observers of German art’. Kokoschka’s work had all the qualities to which he could most easily respond –  directness, vitality, richness of colour, joy in paint, and a warmth which atoned for the quite obvious self-regard. 

Anna Kallin Photo: Isaiah Berlin Virtual Library

Pevsner may have been suspicious of Kokoschka the man: Lola later maintained that he had prevented Kokoschka from painting her portrait, because he was afraid that the ‘Art Thug’ –Georg Grosz’s phrase – would seduce her. (Pevsner would have been reminded of the Thug’s track record by his long association at the BBC with producer Anna “Niouta” Kallin,  an acquaintance from his childhood in Leipzig who had been the painter’s mistress in the mid-1920s, after Alma Mahler and before Marguerite McBey.) 

But this did not stop him from collaborating with Kokoschka in the 1960s on a monograph devoted to the man who had brought them together in the first place. Adolf Loos : pioneer of modern architecture (Thames & Hudson, 1966) by German authors Ludwig Munz and Gustav Kunstler, appeared ‘with an introduction by Nikolaus Pevsner and an appreciation by Oskar Kokoschka’.  







A huge smiling pussycat

Tom Boase (1898-1974) Photo: Courtauld Institute

Nikolaus Pevsner might have been expected not to care for Thomas Sherrer Ross Boase, second director of the Courtauld Institute. He had regarded Boase’s predecessor W. G. Constable with some suspicion , and when appointed in 1937 Boase was not a professional art historian in any sense that Pevsner would have recognised. He was in fact a medieval historian, an expert on the Crusades, who was appointed to the Courtauld by Viscount Lee of Fareham precisely because he had few links with the inbred English art establishment of the 1930s.

 Boase was a close friend of Anthony Blunt, who succeeded him as the third director of the Courtauld when Boase moved to become President of Magdalen College, Oxford. He was a man of smooth manners, detested by Maurice Bowra on the grounds of pomposity and pretentiousness and described by him as ‘a man of large public virtues and small private parts’. (Bowra, aware that Boase hated roses, talked a rich American patron into installing a rose garden opposite Magdalen and dubbed it the ‘Boase Garden’.)  To Antonia Fraser he was ‘a huge smiling pussycat of a man but…perhaps more tiger than domestic pet’.  (He had put her down without mercy when, as a nervous sixteen-year-old, she had ventured a rash remark about Trollope over dinner at High Table.) 

 But Boase was also a champion of refugee scholars, associated with the work of the World Council of Churches in its concern for the fate of academics in Germany under Hitler, and Pevsner was one of those for whom he intervened.  ‘A young art historian of exceptional analytical power and range of learning,’ wrote Boase to the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning in 1934, and twelve years later he would be one of Pevsner’s sponsors for naturalisation.

 Even though the Oxford History of English Art, edited by Boase, might have been seen as a competitor in some respects for Pevsner’s Pelican History of Art – often criticised for giving too much space to English art – the two men remained friends all their lives. Boase, as a former Vice Chancellor of Oxford, played a major role – or so Pevsner belived – in securing him the Slade Professorship in 1968.

 ‘A great scholar,’ wrote Pevsner in 1970, returning the compliment Boase had paid him some thirty-five years earlier. He was writing to the research library at Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, asking for its facilities to be extended to Boase  – ‘a very charming man’.