Gombrich and Hayek

April 22, 2009

by Sandy Ikeda

Many of you have read or at least know of E.H. Gombrich’s The Story of Art, a book that any serious student of art history should have in his library (along with the authoritative but somewhat-less-user-friendly History of Art by H.W. Janson). It’s the best-selling book on art in the world, having gone through some sixteen editions.

Now, this semester (in my dotage) I’ve been attending an adult-education class at NYU called “Creative Cities in History,” taught by the excellent architectural historian, and my former colleague at The New York Sun (where he was the architectural critic and I was a mere blogger), Francis Morrone. Francis has encyclopedic knowledge of the art and architecture of New York City, as well as of most of the other great cities in Western history. Needless to say, I’ve learned a great deal from this marvelous course.

Recently, Francis told me another thing I didn’t know: Gombrich and F.A. Hayek were close personal friends. Gombrich, also an Austrian, was a little younger than Hayek but also attended the University of Vienna. This Wikipedia entry indicates that Gombrich was instrumental in getting Popper’s Open Society and Its Enemies published.

Here is a short video of Charlie Rose interviewing Gombrich. (According to Francis, Gombrich mentions his friendship with Popper and Hayek in a series of interviews with…I didn’t quite catch the name…perhaps “Didier Aaron”? I’ll check this at next week’s class.)

6 Responses to “Gombrich and Hayek”


  1. Wonderful connection! I’ve ordered Gombrich’s book.

  2. Greg Ransom Says:

    Did Gombrich participate in the Furth-Hayek Vienna Circle?

  3. Bogdan Enache Says:

    I recommend two great classics on the topic : Ortega y Gasset’s The Dehumanization of Art – for modern art and the nĂ©ant that came later -, and Benedetto Croce’s Breviario di Estetica for the theory of art in general.


  4. Good news! there is a Gombrich web site:
    http://www.gombrich.co.uk/

    There are papers and reviews, including some treats like a paper on Winston Churchill as an artist and critic, and several interviews including one with Paul Levinson “What I learned from Karl Popper”. http://www.gombrich.co.uk/showdoc.php?id=92

    Sadly the list does not include the paper he wrote about helping “The Open Society and its Enemies” through the press, assisted by 95 aerograms from Popper. Some of that story can be found here.
    http://www.the-rathouse.com/OpenSocietyOnLIne/AATheProjectwithIndex.html

    Nor does it include the paper that Gombrich contributed to the Library of Living Philosophers “Popper” volumes. This paper applied situational analysis (the logic of the situation) driven by the “look at me” or “me too” impulse to some trends in fashion, art and architecture, also to the polarisation of opinion and the escalation of social conflict.

    Gombrich often wrote public letters for Popper when controversies blew up. He was one of a small number of people who were close to Popper for many decades, others included the New Zealander Colin Simkin and the leading scientist Peter Medawar.

  5. Jan Michl Says:

    Belatedly, more info about Gombrich:

    The name of the Gombrich interviewer, which Sandy did not quite catch in the Charlie Rose video, was Didier Eribon. The interviews were published by Thames and Hudson in 1993 as E. H. Gombrich, A lifelong interest: Conversations on art and science with Didier Eribon, and in USA as Looking for answers.

    Apropos Gombrich’s contribution to the second of the Popper volumes of Library of Living Philosophers, published in 1974 and mentioned in Rafe’s note above: this brilliant text, “The logic of vanity fair: Alternatives to Historicism in the study of fashions, style and taste”, was republished in 1979 in Gombrich’s essay collection, named Ideals and idols; Essays on values in history and in art (Phaidon).

  6. Sandy Ikeda Says:

    Thanks for providing the name of that interviewer, Jan! Apologies for not following through on my promise. And many thanks also for the later Gombrich title.


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