Authors: E. H. Gombrich

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Austrian-born British historian

Author Works


Caricature, 1940 (with Ernst Kris)

The Story of Art, 1950, revised 1995

Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation, 1960

Meditations on a Hobby Horse: And Other Essays on the Theory of Art, 1963

Norm and Form: Studies in the Art of the Renaissance, 1966

In Search of Cultural History, 1969

Aby Warburg: An Intellectual Biography, 1970, revised 1986

Symbolic Images, 1972

Art, Perception, and Reality, 1972 (with Julian Hochberg and Max Black)

The Heritage of Apelles: Studies in the Art of the Renaissance, 1976

Means and Ends: Reflections on the History of Fresco Painting, 1976

Ideals and Idols: Essays on Values in History and in Art, 1979

The Sense of Order: A Study in the Psychology of Decorative Art, 1979

The Image and the Eye: Further Studies in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation, 1982

Tributes: Interpreters of Our Cultural Tradition, 1984

New Light on Old Masters, 1986

Reflections on the History of Art: Views and Reviews, 1987

Ce que l’image nous dit, 1991 (A Lifelong Interest: Conversations on Art and Science with Didie Eribon, 1993)

Topics of Our Time: Twentieth-Century Issues in Learning and in Art, 1991

The Essential Gombrich: Selected Writings on Art and Culture, 1996 (Richard Woodfield, editor)

The Uses of Images: Studies in the Social Function of Art and Visual Communication, 1999

The Preference for the Primitive: Episodes in the History of Western Taste and Art, 2002


Ernst Hans Josef Gombrich, one of the most influential art historians of the twentieth century, was born to Karl B. and Leonie Hock Gombrich. His father was a lawyer who served as vice president of the Vienna Lawyers’ Chamber, and his mother was a pianist who had been an assistant to Theodor Leschetizky and a member of the circle around Gustav Mahler. His family, like many others in post-World War I Austria, had a hard struggle; eventually the young Ernst Gombrich was sent to Sweden by the Save the Children Fund. When he was able to return to Austria, he attended the Theresianum, a school that concentrated on classical subjects. From 1928 to 1935, he attended the University of Vienna, taking courses in art history, classical archaeology, psychology, and philosophy.{$I[AN]9810001172}{$I[A]Gombrich, E. H.}{$I[geo]AUSTRIA;Gombrich, E. H.}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Gombrich, E. H.}{$I[tim]1909;Gombrich, E. H.}

At the age of twenty-six, he published a highly successful world history book for children, which quickly became available in four languages. With the Nazi threat growing in Austria, Gombrich accepted an offer to join the Warburg Institute in London in 1936. He married Ilse Heller in 1937 and became a naturalized British citizen in 1947. In 1959, he became director of the Warburg Institute, a position he held until 1976. During his career, he published almost two dozen books, held several visiting professorships, and received many prestigious fellowships and awards.

Beginning in his student days, Gombrich was more interested in the psychological, philosophical, and cultural aspects of art than in purely aesthetic considerations. His publications include successful elementary and introductory textbooks as well as highly regarded scholarly studies. In 1950, he published The Story of Art, an introductory survey he had begun before World War II. This text, which has been translated into many languages, is generally regarded as the prototype of what a text can be; according to Gombrich, it is the principal reason he was offered the prestigious Stade Professorship at the University of Oxford from 1950 to 1952. His next major book, Art and Illusion, a study of the psychology of pictorial representation, is based on his Mellon Lectures at the National Gallery of Art, and it received high praise from scholars. Meditations on a Hobby Horse, a collection of essays published in 1963, won the W. H. Smith Literary Award in 1964. Norm and Form, In Search of Cultural History, and Symbolic Images all investigate the connection between the artist’s creative ordering of his subject and medium and the general cultural mind-set of his age. Gombrich’s iconographical study of the Renaissance led him to an analysis of art and Neoplatonism, as well as artistic representation and the Humanist revival of ancient myths, symbols, and images.

The ultimate aim of these various inquiries is to account for cultural, artistic, and aesthetic values and changes in them over time–or, as Gombrich put it in Art and Illusion, to examine “why different ages and different nations have represented the visible world in different ways.” In conducting these studies, he opened the history of art to the interpretive methods of philosophy and psychology. Gombrich died in 2001 at the age of ninety-two.

BibliographyGorak, Jan. The Making of the Modern Canon: Genesis and Crisis of a Literary Idea. Atlantic Heights, N.J.: Athlone, 1991. An examination of the influence of Gombrich, as well as Northrop Frye, Frank Kermode, and Edward W. Said.Onians, John, ed. Sight and Insight: Essays on Art and Culture in Honour of E. H. Gombrich at Eighty-five. London: Phaidon Press, 1994. A Festschrift of articles inspired by Gombrich’s theories.Pavur, Claude N. “Restoring Cultural History: Beyond Gombrich,” CLIO: A Journal of Literature, History, and the Philosophy of History 20, no. 2 (Winter, 1991). An interdisciplinary study that applies Gombrich’s theories.Richmond, Shelton Saul. Aesthetic Criteria: Gombrich and the Philosophies of Science of Popper and Polanyi. Atlanta: Rodopi, 1994. Examines Gombrich’s theories in the light of those of Karl R. Popper and Michael Polanyi.Trapp, J. B. E. H. Gombrich: A Bibliography. London: Phaidon, 2000. Includes an index.Woodfield, Richard, ed. Gombrich on Art and Psychology. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996. A book-length study.
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