Count Harry Graf Kessler (1868-1937)

In the Irish Times of 24/9/16, Harry Kessler was described by Derek Scally as “Germany’s original hipster”.

According to Wikipedia: “Harry Clemens Ulrich Graf von Kessler was an Anglo-German count, diplomat, writer, and patron of modern art. English translations of his diaries “Journey to the Abyss” (2011) and “Berlin in Lights” (1971) reveal anecdotes and details of artistic, theatrical, and political life in Europe, mostly in Germany, from the late 19th century and through the collapse of Germany at the end of World War I until his death in Lyon in 1937.

Harry Kessler’s parents were the Hamburg banker Adolf Wilhelm Graf von Kessler and Alice Harriet Blosse-Lynch, the daughter of Anglo-Irish Henry Blosse Lynch of Partry House, County Mayo. Curiously, Alice Blosse-Lynch is recorded as having died unmarried in 1919 in Burke’s Irish Family Records (1976).

After moving to Berlin in 1893, he worked on the Art Nouveau journal Pan, which published literary work by, among others, Richard Dehmel, Theodor Fontane, Friedrich Nietzsche, Detlev von Liliencron, Julius Hart, Novalis, Paul Verlaine and Alfred Lichtwark. The short-lived journal also published graphic works by numerous artists including Henry van de Velde, Max Liebermann, Otto Eckmann and Ludwig von Hofmann.

On 24 March 1903 Kessler assumed control of the “Museum für Kunst und Kunstgewerbe” in Weimar. There he worked with new exhibition concepts and the establishment of a permanent arts and crafts exhibit.

In 1904, during his work in Weimar, Kessler began to publish a group of bibliophilic books containing artistic compositions of typography and illustrations. In the beginning he cooperated with the German Insel Verlag. In 1913 he founded his own company, the Cranach Press, of which he became the director.

Around 1913 Kessler commissioned Edward Gordon Craig, an English theatrical designer and theoretician, to make woodcut illustrations for a sumptuous edition of Shakespeare’s Hamlet for the Cranach Press. A German translation by Gerhart Hauptmann, with illustrations by Craig, was finally published in Weimar in 1928. The English version, edited by J. Dover Wilson, came out in 1930. This book, printed on fine paper, using different type-faces, with marginal notes with source quotations, and featuring Craig’s woodcuts, is regarded by many as one of the finest examples of the printer’s art to have been published in the 20th century. It is still sought by collectors worldwide.

Kessler’s ideas of reforming culture went beyond the visual arts. He developed a reformation concept for the theatre which was supported by Edward Gordon Craig, Max Reinhardt and Karl Vollmöller. Kessler asserted that a so-called “Mustertheater” should be established. The Belgian architect Henry van de Velde sought to design the corresponding building. On the initiative of Kessler many prominent writers were invited to introduce a literary modernity to Weimar, but the hegemonic opinions were considered too conservative and nationalistic, and the plans for the Mustertheater failed.

After the Nazis’ seizure of power in 1933 Kessler emigrated to Paris, then to Mallorca and finally to the southern French provinces. He died in 1937 in Lyon.

It was presumed that Kessler’s earlier diaries had been lost but they were found in 1983 in a safe in Mallorca. In 2004, the first definitive nine volume edition was published in Germany and the first English edition of the 1880–1918 years was published in 2011.”

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