Henry Koerner, Austrian/American (1915 - 1991)

Henry Koerner

Mr. Koerner, a prolific painter, was considered a master of Magic Realism. His works are in the permanent collections of several museums, among them the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. Prize for a War Poster

Mr. Koerner moved to the United States in 1938, starting out in Brooklyn as a commercial artist. Throughout much of World War II, he designed posters for the Office of War Information and the Office of Strategic Services. His poster "Someone Talked" won an award from the Museum of Modern Art. He was sent to Germany after the victory in Europe to sketch the Nuremberg trials for the American Military Government.

Painter Henry Koerner was born in Vienna in 1915 to Jewish parents and trained there as a graphic designer.  He immigrated to the United States in 1938 after Hitler came to power.  In New York, he won prizes in the National War Poster Competition.  He enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving in the Office of Strategic Services in Washington and London.  In 1943 he began to paint; in 1945 he was shipped to Germany to draw Nazi war criminals in the Nuremberg Trials.  His work was given urgency in 1946 when, returning to Vienna, he learned that his parents (Leo and Fanny Koerner) and brother (Kurt) had died in extermination camps in Belorussia and Poland.

In 1947, Henry Koerner had his first one-man show in Berlin, the first exhibition of an artist in post-war Germany.  Dealing directly with the trauma of war and loss, his "magic realist" pictures caused a public sensation in the ruined capital.  Returning to the U.S. later that year, he had acclaimed exhibitions in New York, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

His paintings were acquired by major museums, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, which holds three of his works.  In 1953 he settled in Pittsburgh and until his death in 1991 divided his time between there and Vienna.

Koerner painted (always from life) over 50 Time Magazine covers between 1955 and 1967, including covers of John. F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy.  He was honored, after his death in 1991, by retrospectives in the Austrian National Gallery and the Frick Art Museum in Pittsburgh.

The Henry Koerner Center, serving emeritus faculty as a place to meet and work, opened at Yale University in January 2003.  Located in the Pierpont House at Yale, it was made possible by a gift from Lisbet Rausing and Joseph Koerner '80, through the Fanny and Leo Koerner Charitable Trust.  Joseph Koerner is Henry Koerner's son.

Yale President Richard C. Levin described Henry Koerner as "a massively prolific artist who, distant from mainstream 20th-century art, produced an eccentric corpus unusual for its humor, formal beauty and spiritual purpose.  A great portraitist of the experience of survival, Koerner is appropriately honored by the center."

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