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date: 15 November 2019

Pevsner, Sir Nikolaus Bernhard Leon

A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture

James Stevens Curl,

Susan Wilson

Pevsner, Sir Nikolaus Bernhard Leon (1902–83) German-born British art-historian. 

A strong supporter of the Modern Movement, some of his early writings had an undoubted bias, notably the influential Pioneers of the Modern Movement from William Morris to Walter Gropius (1936, later reissued as Pioneers of Modern Design) and An Outline of European Architecture (1942 with many subsequent editions). He had a powerful impact on AR in the 1940s (when that journal became a pro-Modern-Movement force and changed the architectural climate of Britain). He originated and edited the Pelican History of Art (from 1953), one of the most impressive series on art and architecture published in C20, but his greatest achievement was arguably the county-by-county guides of The Buildings of England (from 1951), much of which he wrote himself, although some of his highly subjective comments have been toned down in later editions. His collections of essays published as Studies in Art, Architecture, and Design (1968) and A History of Building Types (1976) are mines of information. He was devoted to the study of the architecture (especially churches) of his adopted country, and made an incalculable contribution to scholarship. However, the notions he imbibed while a student at Leipzig (especially influenced by his teacher, Pinder (who was much respected by the National Socialists, not least for his over-estimation of German art in relation to other European countries), including belief in the Zeitgeist (spirit of the age) and in ‘national character’), led him to presuppositions that perhaps distorted his sense of history. For example, he argued that among Gropius’s architectural antecedents were members of the English Arts-and-Crafts Movement: this was typical of his attempts to create links with the past to promote his own heroes, for it is well-known that Arts-and-Crafts architects (e.g. Baillie Scott and Voysey) rejected Gropius and all he stood for. Gropius and his disciples did much to destroy traditional crafts-based building (despite Gropius’s insistence (to Pevsner) that William Morris was one of his main sources of inspiration). Nevertheless, his many achievements deserve respect.


Bradley & B.Cherry (2001); B.Cherry (1998); Draper (ed.) (2004); Games (ed.) (2002); Games (2010); S.Harries (2011); ODNB (2004); Pe (1960, 1963, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1972, 1974, 1974a, 1976); pk; J.T (1996); D.Wa (1977)