Nikolaus Pevsner

Author of Pioneers of Modern Design, An Outline of European Architecture

Sir Nikolaus Pevsner (1902–1983) was considered to be the most influential writer on the history of architecture in the first half of the twentieth century. In his obituary, The Times wrote: 'He had a great capacity for getting down to essentials in any phase of art and for distinguishing between what was inevitable in the circumstances and what was likely to blow over as a passing fashion. His judgments were often refreshingly unconventional for the simple reason that they were consistent.'

Born in Germany, he was educated at Leipzig and was successively connected with the universities of Leipzig, Munich, Berlin and Frankfurt. While lecturing at Göttingen University between 1929 and 1933, he specialized in the history of art in Great Britain. In 1934, he moved to England to escape the Nazis, later taking British citizenship in 1946. From 1949 to 1955, he was Slade Professor of Fine Art and a Fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge. In 1959, he became Professor of History of Art at Birkbeck College, London, where he remained until his retirement in 1969.

Pevsner established his reputation with An Outline of European Architecture (1942) and Pioneers of Modern Design (1949), recently updated and reissued by Yale University Press, though he is probably best known for his celebrated series of guides, The Buildings of England, published in 46 volumes between 1951 and 1974. He was also founding editor, in 1953, of The Pelican History of Art and Architecture, the most comprehensive history of art ever published in English.

For more information visit Nikolaus Pevsner: The Life.

Photo © MEPL/Robin Adler