Obituary: Paul Hodin

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The Independent Online
Paul Hodin encapsulated in his work the values of the past, while devoting much effort to forging novel attitudes to interpret the art of the second half of the 20th century. The corollary was a dislike of, even an angry aloofness from, what was ephemeral, if insistent, in the artistic movements of the post-war years.

Hodin invariably described himself as "author, art historian and art critic". It was indicative. For him art was inseparable from civilised living, rather than an end in itself. Paul Hodin had little time for the noisy pygmies who at the moment foist their views on the British public.

He was never entirely comfortable, as no man as wise as he could be, in the art world of Britain, his adopted country. He became President of the British Section of the International Association of Art Critics, but was never art critic of a national paper. On the Continent, Hodin was much better known than in Britain.

An indication of this was the academic and national honours he received. He was an Hon PhD of Uppsala (1969), and an Hon Professor of Vienna University (1975), while in 1954 he had been given the prize for Art Criticism at the Venice Biennale. The Italians made him a Commendatore of the Order of Merit (1966), the Austrians invested him with the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit (1968), and the Silver Cross of Merit (1972), while the Germans awarded him the Order of Merit First Class in 1969, and in 1986 made him a Commander of the Order. He also received medals from Norway and Czechoslovakia.

All this was in recognition of many books and a host of articles on literary and artistic subjects in a wide range of periodicals. It was also an acknowledgement of his contributions to the study of aesthetics. From 1955 Hodin was on the Editorial Council of the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, and he was a member of the Executive Committee of the British Society of Aesthetics. He was also editor of Prisme des Arts, Paris (1956-57), and of Quadrum, Brussels (1956-66).

The trained mind and the attitudes Hodin brought to these roles were the key to his influence on the Continent. That his work was not more fully appreciated in Britain is a token of the extent to which Britain remains isolated from the mainstreams of European thought.

Hodin had an essentially patrician approach to the arts. This may appear surprising, for he became deeply involved with the artistic movements of the second half of the 20th century. His background was crucial.

He was a product of all that was best about the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Hodin was educated in Prague and read Law at Charles University. Yet he was equally at home in Paris and Italy, and studied at the art academies of Dresden and Berlin. Against this background he was at ease, and influential, at the Venice Biennale, the Kessel Documenta and at many conferences.

Towards the end of the Second World War Hodin came to England, and in 1945 married Pamela Simms. In Cornwall and London, she was to be his constant companion and support. In 1944-45 he was press attache to the Norwegian government in exile and from 1949-54 was director of studies and librarian of the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. Hodin then settled down to writing many books, published in Germany, Italy, America, England and elsewhere. They fall broadly into three categories.

First there were books on aesthetics, of which The Dilemma of Being Modern (1956) and Modern Art and the Modern Mind (1972) were the most important.

Then there were books and articles in which he set out to interpret Expressionism and the art of the German-speaking lands for English-speaking audiences. Hodin played a key role in ensuring that artists as different as Munch and Schwitters were understood in Britain and America.

Above all, he celebrated the art and life of the painter Oskar Kokoschka. During the years from the Second World War until 1953, when Kokoschka was living in England, he and Hodin got to know one another well. Their intimacy was to lead to one of the most fruitful of 20th-century relationships between an artist and a critic. Hodin's books on Kokoschka, above all his Oskar Kokoschka: a biography (1966), remain the best things that have been written on the artist.

Yet the perception Hodin displayed when writing about the art and character of Kokoschka was paralleled when he turned to interpreting British artists and sculptors. Here the fact that the Hodins had a house in Cornwall, and were a part of what was happening in St Ives, was crucial. So, too, was a special interest in sculpture which led to some of the best books on Henry Moore (1956), Lynn Chadwick (1961), Barbara Hepworth (1961) and Elisabeth Frink (1983). That Hodin also wrote so well about Manzu and Emilio Greco was a token of how wide-ranging were his interests. He did much to coax British thinking towards the mainstream of European awareness.

Josef Paul Hodin, art historian and critic: born Prague 17 August 1905; married 1945 Pamela Simms (one son, one daughter); died London 6 December 1995.