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Henry Koerner

 (1915 - 1991)
Henry Koerner was active/lived in Pennsylvania / Germany, Austria.  Henry Koerner is known for celebrity portrait painting, war posters, magic realism.

Henry Koerner

Biography from the Archives of askART

Following is an exhibition review, published in the Naples Daily News, Florida, December 5, 2009.  

From the Holocaust to JFK, artist Henry Koerner experienced and captured major milestones of the 20th century. Now, the von Liebig Art Center, in conjunction with the Holocaust Museum of Southwest Florida, both of Naples, presents Koerner's work in the first major U.S. retrospective of his art since 1984.

Koerner's paintings will be at the von Liebig; his black-and-white photographs will be at the Holocaust Museum.

"This exhibition will open people's eyes to the work of a true master," says Frank Russen, gallery director at the Englishman Gallery of Naples, Atlanta and Vail, Colo., and a board member of the Naples Art Association at the von Liebig Art Center.  Russen met Koerner while a college student in 1986, when Russen modeled for the artist and served as his assistant and driver for painting excursions.

Koerner was killed while bicycling in Vienna in 1991.

"Henry's style of painting cannot be defined. It evolved during his career, from almost photo realism to wide brushstrokes of color like impressionism," says Russen.

Not only a painter, Koerner designed World War II posters for the U.S. War Department and served the Army's Office of Strategic Service as chief illustrator at the Nuremberg Trials. He lost his parents and brother in the Holocaust and returned to Europe after WWII as an OSS photographer to document the destruction in Germany and Austria.

Later in his career, Koerner painted 64 covers for Time magazine, a process that involved portrait sittings for several days with the likes of John Kennedy, Nelson Rockefeller, Julie Harris and Barbra Streisand.

His widow, Joan Koerner, and her children are offering most of the exhibited works for sale, including some of Koerner's rare early paintings that are priced at $350,000 each. "Art connoisseurs feel owning a Koerner for their collection is important because of the historical significance of the work and Henry's classical training," Russen explains. "Henry's pieces tell stories when you look at them, but he would never explain them, because he knew they could mean different things to different people."

Koerner's work is in the collections of major museum such as the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Carnegie Museum of Art, Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Modern Art, and Whitney Museum of American Art.

A son, Joseph Koerner, professor of art history and architecture at Harvard and BBC documentary host, will discuss his father's life and art on WGCU public radio at noon on Thursday and give a lecture entitled "The Family Portrait" at 3 p.m. on Friday at the von Liebig Art Center at Cambier Park next to Naples City Hall. Joseph Koerner and his mother will attend the art center exhibition's opening reception later that day, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Naples Daily News, December 5, 2009

Biography from the Archives of askART
Painter Henry Koerner was born in Vienna in 1915 to Jewish parents and trained there as a graphic designer.  He immigrated to the United States in 1938 after Hitler came to power.  In New York, he won prizes in the National War Poster Competition.  He enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving in the Office of Strategic Services in Washington and London.  In 1943 he began to paint; in 1945 he was shipped to Germany to draw Nazi war criminals in the Nuremberg Trials.  His work was given urgency in 1946 when, returning to Vienna, he learned that his parents (Leo and Fanny Koerner) and brother (Kurt) had died in extermination camps in Belorussia and Poland.

In 1947, Henry Koerner had his first one-man show in Berlin, the first exhibition of an artist in post-war Germany.  Dealing directly with the trauma of war and loss, his "magic realist" pictures caused a public sensation in the ruined capital.  Returning to the U.S. later that year, he had acclaimed exhibitions in New York, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

His paintings were acquired by major museums, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, which holds three of his works.  In 1953 he settled in Pittsburgh and until his death in 1991 divided his time between there and Vienna.

Koerner painted (always from life) over 50 Time Magazine covers between 1955 and 1967, including covers of John. F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy.  He was honored, after his death in 1991, by retrospectives in the Austrian National Gallery and the Frick Art Museum in Pittsburgh.

The Henry Koerner Center, serving emeritus faculty as a place to meet and work, opened at Yale University in January 2003.  Located in the Pierpont House at Yale, it was made possible by a gift from Lisbet Rausing and Joseph Koerner '80, through the Fanny and Leo Koerner Charitable Trust.  Joseph Koerner is Henry Koerner's son.

Yale President Richard C. Levin described Henry Koerner as "a massively prolific artist who, distant from mainstream 20th-century art, produced an eccentric corpus unusual for its humor, formal beauty and spiritual purpose.  A great portraitist of the experience of survival, Koerner is appropriately honored by the center."


Biography from the Archives of askART
Following is the obituary of the artist, The New York Times, July 9, 1991

Henry Koerner, 75, Painter of Portraits And War Posters

Henry Koerner, a Vienna-born painter whose portraits of celebrities like Maria Callas and John F. Kennedy appeared on the cover of Time magazine in the 1950's and 60's, died on Thursday in St. Polten, Austria. He was 75 years old and lived in Pittsburgh.

He was bicycling with his wife, Joan, on June 5 when he was hit by a car, his daughter, Stephanie, said, said a report in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  She said her father's brain was damaged, and he was in a coma until his death in a hospital in St. Polten, about 30 miles west of Vienna.

Mr. Koerner, a prolific painter, was considered a master of Magic Realism. His works are in the permanent collections of several museums, among them the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. (Prize for a War Poster)

Mr. Koerner moved to the United States in 1938, starting out in Brooklyn as a commercial artist.  Throughout much of World War II, he designed posters for the Office of War Information and the Office of Strategic Services. His poster Someone Talked won an award from the Museum of Modern Art. He was sent to Germany after the victory in Europe to sketch the Nuremberg trials for the American Military Government.

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About  Henry Koerner

Born:  1915 - Vienna, Austria
Died:   1991 - Vienna, Austria
Known for:  celebrity portrait painting, war posters, magic realism