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An Exhibition in Honor of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

April 24 – May 15, 1949


The 200th anniversary of the birth of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (August 28, 1749 to March 22, 1832) is celebrated throughout the Western world. In planning a suitable observance at this University, we thought it both desirable and appropriate to assemble various documents, by means of which the public might more easily sense the universality of the genius of a man who could approach , with almost equal creativity, so many and such widely different fields in the realms of letters, science, and the arts.

Far removed as we are from the old world of Goethe, it looked forward for a time as if our plan had been all too zealous and visionary. We feared that we might have to be content with few originals to give some semblance to genuineness to an exhibition made up largely of facsimiles. In the end, however, our search was rewarded beyond all anticipation. The collection of originals became so large that we had to leave out all the facsimiles and most modern editions. An appeal to Professor Ernst Beutler, the Director of Freies Deutsches Hochstift, Frankfurter Goethe Museum, conveyed by Paul Riedel, one of our students who went to Germany in an exchange arrangement between the Universities of Chicago and Frankfurt, brought a most generous and exceptional response. Nearly one hundred items were sent over from the Goethe Haus for which the State Department at Washington provided transportation by special courier and a guarantee of proper protection and return to Frankfurt after the materials have been exhibited in this country.

To the State Department and to the Library of Congress who have kindly cooperated with us in this matter we wish to express our thanks and obligation, as also to Professor Roger Oake, representing the University of Chicago at Frankfurt, who negotiated with the American Military Government and Washington. Our thanks and obligation to the Frankfurt Goethe Museum are greater than we can express. The confidence of Professor Beutler in us and his willingness to do the unprecedented by shipping some of his treasures to our distant shores gave us the real impetus for the exhibition.

Other loans came from different parts of this country. We wish to acknowledge our gratitude to various institutions: to the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York; to the Detroit Institute of Arts and to Wayne University at Detroit; to the Art Institute of Chicago; to the Yale University Library and Professor Carl F. Schreiber for making available many items from the fine Speck Collections.

The Newberry Library, Chicago, generously put at our disposal the precious Mozart manuscript of Contre Danses which were recently presented by Mrs. Charles H. Swift, and have not been exhibited before.

From the Library of the University of Chicago came not a few items of interest and value, some with inscriptions and associations not before noticed.

Most of these are part of three larger collections: The Berlin Collection, presented many years ago by Martin A. Ryerson and other notable Chicagoans; the Emil Heinesmann, the Goethe scholar, which was purchased for the Library by Mr. and Mrs. William A. Weiboldt.

Remarkable and rewarding beyond expectation have been the treasures sent to us by private collectors in this country. Some of these have been family treasures ever since Goethe's own time. We wish to record sincerest thanks to Mrs. Julie Braum-Vogelstein, Mrs. A.De Witt-Stetten, Mr. Gert von Gontard, and Mr. Theo Feldman of New York; to Dr. Ernst Scheyer, Dr. E.P.Richardson, Mrs. Albert Kahn, and Dr. Franz Blumenthal of Michigan; and Mr. Alfred E. Hamill, Dr. Hans Huth, and Dr. Joseph Reich of Illinois, likewise to my colleagues at this University H. St. Schultz, Urlich Middeldorf, O.J.M. Jolles, A. Bergstrasser, and especially to Joachim Wach for lending us the unique Lessing manuscripts.

The exhibition has been planned and arranged by Messrs. O.J.M.Jolles and Ulrich Middeldorf. The catalogue was compiled with the assistance of Messrs. H.St.Schultz, G. Metcalf, F. Caspari, H. Meyerbach, L. Goldsmith and Miss V. Maderfeld and Miss A. Flandreau. With the help of students from the Art and Germanic Departments Mrs. Biesel, the Director of Exhibitions of the Renaissance Society has attended to the hanging and to technical matters connected with the exhibition. A special debt of gratitude is owed to Mrs. Elisabeth Schmitt, the Secretary of the Germanic Department, for her untiring and understanding assistance.

In cataloging the many items, it has not been possible to be exhaustive of even consistent, mainly because of the brief time at our disposal. It is hoped, however, that the objects have been sufficiently described to identify them. As a rule we have listed the pertinent numbers in the useful catalogue of the Speck collection of Goetheana at Yale University. (Goethe's works with the exception of Fraust- A Catalogue... edited.... by Carl Frederick Schreiber. New Haven, 1940, there referred to as "Speck.") In a few instances Goedeke and other works have been cited.

In hanging and arranging the materials it has been our intention to re-capture the spirit of the 18th century. We believe, however, that we have assembled not merely dead treasures pertaining to great men of the past, so as to satisfy an antiquarian taste for precious curiosities among the public and specialists, but a remarkable collection testifying to a living spirit. For clearly, here the old world meets with the new. Treasures entrusted to us as a loan from Goethe's native city are displayed side by side with others that were brought to our country as cherished possessions and are loaned to us with unselfish pride. The significance of such cooperation to honor Goethe lies not only in the gratification which results from collaboration, nor yet in the great value and scarcity of the material. It is rather the spirit which prompted the owners to carry their treasures to this New World that augurs significantly and hopefully for the future.

Today more than ever can Goethe in America be s symbol for the vitality of our cultural heritage. In his comprehensive humanity and lucid understanding of man and nature, Goethe is both a challenge and an ideal for our troubled times.

Author: Helena M. Gamer
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