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Edward M. M. Warburg Strives to Give Life Meaning Through Art

November 19, 1933
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In a small room atop the Museum of Modern Art sits the urbane and smiling Edward M. M. Warburg, youngest son of Felix M. Warburg, banker and philanthropist, who as a zealous student of the arts is making a concentrated attempt to promote in the United States an interest in less crass and materialistic things than business.

He has chosen for his vocation the field of art and is at present connected with the Museum as a member of its Board of Trustees. Mr. Warburg is not the only one of his family to have left the ranks of high finance and banking. In the choice of his vocation he has the precedent of his uncle, the late Prof. Aby M. Warburg of Hamburg, as well as his great-uncle, the late James Loeb, founder of the Loeb Classical Library. In addition, his brother, Gerald Felix Warburg, has devoted his life to music and is a member of the Stradivarius Quartet.


“My object is to advance the cause of art through education,” said Mr. Warburg in an interview.

Edward Warburg became quite naturally interested in art through the collection of paintings and etchings which are among his father’s choice possessions.

At Harvard, where he graduated in 1930, he studied at the Fogg Art Museum, concentrating in the fine arts, and was elected orator by his class. With youthful enthusiasm, Mr. Warburg declared in his oration his personal criticisms of American educational methods, and in order to make his criticisms more constructive decided to enter the teaching field himself. After a year’s study among private art collections and museums of Germany, France and England he took a position as instructor at Bryn Mawr College, teaching in two courses. One dealt with the Development of Modern Art and the other with Sculpture from the Renaissance to the Present.


Mr. Warburg is most interested in the art of the present day. He feels that it is the duty of every civilization to support the creative art of its own time, regardless of the form it takes.

Together with Lincoln Kirstein, editor of “Hound and Horn”, and John Walker III of Pittsburgh, Mr. Warburg founded in his alma mater the Harvard Society of Contemporary Arts. Here latest trends in modern art were displayed.

His latest venture in the art world consists in the founding of the School of the American Ballet. Assisted by Mr. Kirstein, George Balanchine and Vladmir Dimitriew, he avowed as the purpose of the institution to train dancers in the classical tradition of the ballet. Thus, it is hoped, a new art form for American expression will be inaugurated.


During this time he was building his small private collection of art works which have at various times been on display at the Museum and other museums throughout the country. Mr. Warburg has donated discriminating wall space to the paintings of the “rebels”, German, French and American, who usually have had to struggle for recognition. In a sense he may be accused of being an advocate of the cult of the ugly, but he is a modernist who scorns the merely “pretty” art which was the fascination of another generation. As a private friend to art, he has quietly made it possible for many painters who have lacked recognition, to continue their work.

After a year’s teaching at Bryn Mawr, during which time Mr. Warburg also served on the Advisory Committee of the Museum of Modern Art, he spent a summer motoring throughout the country, visiting all of its museums and studying the moving picture industry in Hollywood—a particular hobby of his. After a speedy flight across the continent, he embarked for Europe, there becoming acquainted with Professor Arthur Upham Pope, of the American Institute of Persian Art and Archaeology. He accompanied the Professor on an expedition to photograph Islamic Architecture of the eleventh and twelfth centuries in Persia.


During this trip he spent a month in Russia, studying the foreign museums there as well as the social conditions, and he was much impressed with the educational facilities provided by the Soviet Union. The expedition to Persia was most successful in that it brought to light six new monuments previously unknown to the western world.

“Their importance,” said Mr. Warburg, “lay in establishing original of Gothic vaulting forms as well as Romanesque designs in the Orient.”

The photographic results of this expedition will appear in the Survey of Persian Art which Professor Pope is at the present time editing for the Oxford University Press.

After an exciting trip by air over the Arabian Desert, Mr. Warburg landed in Palestine, where he lived for thirty days. Amazed at the extraordinary spirit of the colonists and the disappearance of the usual introversion of the Jewish type, Mr. Warburg spent a week observing the colonies in the Emek and other settlements.

His interest in the Holy Land, stimulated by the month’s visit, has not lagged and he is active in helping to develop the Tel Aviv Museum as well as the Habima Theatre group, in providing necessary funds for their continuance.


Mr. Warburg expressed the feeling that the Habima was the finest theatre he has ever visited, not excluding those he saw in Russia. And as to the Tel Aviv Museum, if that organization were able to obtain important Jewish painters of the past as well as a cross-section of the present, it might be the means by which the new culture of Palestine could be developed.

Mr. Warburg said that he doesn’t view Palestine as a national homeland but as a university center in which the ideals and culture of the Jewish people may have an opportunity to flourish and spread throughout the whole world.

Primarily, Mr. Warburg’s chief interest is in education. His hobby being art, he has endeavored through his lectures and now in his work at the Museum of Modern Art, to bring the artists of today into a usefulness which can only exist when the public has been educated to an understanding of their creative work.

Mr. Warburg has followed the tradition of his family in his interest in Jewish philanthropic work as well as in patronizing young and able artists. He has recently taken over the chairmanship of the Art division in the present Federation drive in this city.

It is to education that Edward M. M. Warburg pins his faith in the development of those things for which this civilization will be remembered.

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