Artist and professor of art history at the Universities of Heidelberg, Strasbourg, and Munich; exponent of 20th-century art and founder of the modern art-historical encyclopedia. Burger was the son of a banker. He started architectural studies in 1896 in Munich, but cut them short for enrollment in the military the following year. From 1900 onward, he studied art history in Heidelberg. The new art movement of Darmstadt became the subject of his first publication in 1902. He married the daughter of the Heidelberg classicist Friedrich von Duhn the same year. In 1903 he completed his doctorate under Henry Thode, writing a thesis on medieval Florentine grave sculpture. Burger extensively revised his dissertation into a book, Geschichte des florentinischen Grabmals von den ältesten Zeiten bis Michelangelo, which he published in 1904. Though a formal analysis of Italian grave sculpture, the work conspicuously incorporated social and cultural observations into its methodology. Together with director of the Berlin Museums, Wilhelm Bode, he intensively research Italian Renaissance art and also German art of the 16th century. After moving to Freiburg, Burger studied in Florence between 1904 and 1906 traveling throughout Italy. His Italian experience allowed him to complete his 1906 habilitationsschrift Vitruv und die Renaissance from Munich. A monograph on Francesco Laurana followed. Between 1907-1914 he was private lecturer at Munich and at the academy of performing arts. Beginning in 1909 he turned his attention again to contemporary art. In 1912 Burger began issuing a multi-volumed art encyclopedia, Handbuch der Kunstwissenschaft with Albert Brinckmann, a series of commissioned volumes on the history of art written by important younger art historians. This work, which traced its roots to the original by Anton Springer, was done without the backing of any institution or educational body. He himself contributed the volumes 21-23 in the series, Die deutsche Malerei vom ausgehenden Mittelalter bis zum Ende der Renaissance (German painting from the late middle ages to the end of the renaissance), 1913, written in conjunction with Hermann Schmitz (1881/2-1945) and Ignaz Beth (1877-1918). In contrast to the three-volume Geschichte der Kunst aller Zeiten und Völker (1900-1911) of Karl Woermann and the 17-volume Histoire de l'art of André Michel, Burger commissioned the scholarship of numerous specialists. Burger's revisionist art history is most clear in his book of 1913, Cézanne und Hodler: Einführung in die Probleme der Malerei der Gegenwart. The same year at a youth meeting at the Hoher Meißner, Burger gave speech about the "spiritual break" in art. Burger hoped that the Handbuch would reflect the reformulation of art in the 19th century and 20th as he saw it. He intended his like-minded colleages, Georg Swarzenski and August Grisebach would author these. However this volume was eventually written by Hans Hildebrandt after Burger's death. While still professor in Munich, Burger became a soldier in World War I. During the breaks in the war he wrote about culture and philosophy, including a theoretical essay, the Einführung in die moderne Kunst. He was killed at age 39 in the bloody battle at Verdun. Brinckmann assumed Burger's work as editor of the Handbuch and the publication of the Einführung. In a touching move, he added an abstract painting of Burger's as the frontispiece illustration to the Einführung in his memory. The Einführung sold almost 50,000 copies by 1931 and became the best selling art book in German history. Burger was a more revolutionary thinker than his younger colleagues Wilhelm Worringer and Wilhelm Hausenstein. He questioned past assumptions about art, attempting to reinvent the very principles of the discipline. Throughout his life, he believed in a secret force behind modern art, considering it a force above everything else. His Handbuch widened the scope of art history: including art from nations outside Europe. He emphasized the German Geist in art, especially from the northern peoples. His analysis of the numerous works of arts remained a starting point for future art historians. Burger however was not infallible; his prediction that the art of Ferdinand Hodler would revolutionize art did not happen. Burger's Handbuch der Kunstwissenschaft abandoned the concept of a coherent narrative for art, instead presenting a conglomerate of self-contained narratives (Locher). A masterpiece of art research, it is the precursor to the modern, multi-volume art histories.
09 September 1877
22 May 1916
Gedanken über die Darmstädter Kunst. Leipzig: Seemann, 1901; [dissertation:] Die Entstehung und Entwickelung des Trecentograbmals in Mittelitalien. Heidelberg, 1904, published, Strassburg: Heitz 1904; Geschichte des florentinischen Grabmals von den ältesten Zeiten bis Michelangelo. Strassburg: Heitz 1904; [habilitation:*] Vitruv und die Renaissance Munich, 1906, published, Repertorium für Kunstwissenschaft 32 (1909): 199-218, [partially republished as(?)] Francesco Laurana und die Meister des Triumphbogens des Alfonso in Neapel, Munich, 1906, part of Francesco Laurana, eine Studie zur italienischen Quattrocentoskulptur. Strassburg: J. H. E. Heitz, 1907; Cézanne und Hodler; Einführung in die Probleme der Malerei der Gegenwart. Munich: Delphin-Verlag, 1919; co-edited with Brinckmann, Albert E. Handbuch der Kunstwissenschaft. 35 vols. Berlin-Neubabelsberg: Akadmische Verlagsgesellschaft Athenain, 1914-1929.* Burger's exact habilitation is in dispute. A record for his Francesco Laurana (1907, above) states it was "Published in part as the author's 'Habilitationsschrift' under title, Francesco Laurana und die Meister des Triumphbogens des Alfonso in Neapel, München, 1906," but Feist in Metzler Kunsthistoriker Lexikon asserts Burger's Vitruv und die Renaissance was his habilitation.
Bazin, Germain. Histoire de l'histoire de l'art; de Vasari à nos jours. Paris: Albin Michel, 1986, pp.186, 325, 374, 375; Hüttinger, Eduard, and Boehm, Gottfried. Porträts und Profile:zur Geschichte der Kunstgeschichte. St. Gallen: Erker, 1992, pp. 338-353; Burkhardt, Liane. "Zu einigen Positionen des Kunsthistorikers Fritz Burger." Kunstchronik 51 no. 4 (1998): 169-173; Locher, Hubert. "The Art Historical Survey: Narratives and Picture Compendia." Visual Resources 17 no. 2 (2001): 165-178; Feist, Peter H. "Burger, Fritz." Metzler Kunsthistoriker Lexikon. 2nd. Stuttgart: J. B. Metzler, 2007, pp. 48-50.