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The Winston Churchill of architectural appreciation,
This review is from: Pevsner - The Early Life: Germany and Art (Hardcover)
What Winston Churchill was to British politics, Nikolaus Pevsner was to architecture. On two counts - modern architecture and historic heritage - he defined public tastes. He didn't create buildings but he set the agenda. It's hard to think of anyone more important to the reception of built aesthetics in the twentieth century.
It's amazing, therefore, to discover from Stephen Games's book how Pevsner's career actually began. Churchill started out as a British newspaper reporter and then as a Liberal politician before becoming a Conservative; Pevsner started out not as an English gentleman but as a German whose main interest was late-Renaissance Italian painting. He was also not at first a supporter of the Bauhaus but of pre-First-World-War buildings - "conceived in the last years of the Empire, when architecture still had sloping roofs," as Games puts it. Pevsner actually deplored Cubist architecture, we discover.
He wasn't even, at first, an enthusiast for Walter Gropius. The reason he adopted Gropius as his guru around 1930, Games explains, was bound up in Pevsner's political hatred of France, a country whose language he learned at school but refused to use after the Versailles Treaty. On one occasion he forced his mother to read and translate a book for him that he wouldn't read for himself solely because it was in French.
"Pevsner - The Early Life: Germany and Art" looks at Pevsner's family background, his youth and schooldays, his university career, his love-life (written very amusingly), and his extraordinary early career in Dresden and Goettingen. It's fleshed out with firsthand interviews conducted specially for this book with family members and former students in Germany - material never seen before.
These observations and Games's own perceptive insights make "Pevsner - The Early Life: Germany and Art" a brilliant analysis of a man and his obsessions: scholarly, cultural and personal. Books about academics are often dry; this one is quite the opposite. It's fascinating, highly enjoyable and a revelation to anyone who may have suspected that the usual clichés about Pevsner are wrong but not known why.