Nikolaus Pevsner: The Life
UK & Comm Chatto & Windus (August 2011, Ed. Clara Farmer, 866 pages)
Born Nikolai Pewsner into a Russian-Jewish family in Leipzig in 1902, the young Nikolaus Pevsner lived through turbulent years in Germany. A promising career as an academic in Dresden during the crisis years of the Weimar Republic ended with his enforced move to England in 1933.
Susie Harries explores the truth about his reported sympathies with elements of Nazi ideology, his internment in England as an enemy alien, his mother's suicide in 1942 and his sometimes painful assimilation into his country of exile. As a critic, academic and champion of Modernism, Pevsner became a central figure in the architectural consensus that accompanied post-war reconstruction; as a 'General Practitioner' of architectural history, Pevsner wrote and broadcast on an astonishing range of subjects, from Gothic cathedrals and Georgian coffee houses to the Festival of Britain and Brutalist tower blocks. But it is the Buildings of England series, published between 1951 and 1974, that has made Pevsner's name synonymous with the exploration and enjoyment of English architecture. Pevsner's career is a prism through which to view the evolution of art history (and its publishing) in Britain - while his life as both an outsider and insider at the heart of English art history illuminates both the predicament and the prowess of the continental emigres who did so much to shape British culture after 1945.