Wolfgang Stechow (1896-1974)
Wolfgang (Ferdinand Ernst Günther) Stechow taught art history at Oberlin for twenty-three years. He was born in Kiel, Germany on June 5, 1896 to Waldemar and Berta Deutschmann Stechow. Waldemar Stechow was a State Attorney in Prussia and a musician; Berta Deutschmann Stechow was also a musician. Wolfgang Stechow’s early education was in the humanistic gymnasium in Göttingen, where he studied Latin, Greek, French, English, and mathematics. He spent his spare time in the study of music, accompanying his mother and playing in various chamber groups.
His university career, begun at Frieburg but interrupted by World War I, resumed at Göttingen, where he received his Ph.D. in 1921 in the history of Northern Renaissance and Baroque art. In 1921-22, Stechow was a Voluntary Assistant at the Kaiser Fredrich Museum in Berlin. He was an assistant to Dr. C. Hofstede de Groot in Hague, Holland (1922-23) and to the Institute of Art History at the University of Göttingen (1923). He began teaching at Göttingen as a “Privatdozent” in 1926, rising by 1931 to the rank of Professor Extraordinarius. During his tenure at Göttingen, Stechow was a member of the German Institute of Art History in Florence, Italy, 1927-28, and a guest professor at the Biblical Hertziana in Rome, 1931. Disagreeing with Nazi rule of Germany, Stechow moved overseas and accepted a position as an Acting Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin (1936); he was promoted to Associate Professor at Wisconsin the following year. He became a United States citizen in 1942.
Stechow was appointed Professor of Fine Arts at Oberlin in 1940 and retired in 1963, but retained the title of Emeritus Professor until his death. In 1945 he was named the Adelia A. Field Johnston Professor of Fine Arts. He returned to Oberlin College in 1972 as Distinguished Visiting Professor, and, in 1973, became an Honorary Curator of the Allen Art Museum. There, with a 1973 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, he directed the publication of the first complete catalog of the Allen Art Museum’s collection of European and American painting and sculpture. He also compiled the Museum’s catalog of European and American drawings and served as editor of the Museum’s Bulletin.
After his retirement, he was appointed Visiting Professor at University of Michigan, 1963-64, Robert Sterling Clark Professor of Art at Williams College, 1966-67, William Allan Neilson Chair of Research at Smith College, 1969, Mary Conover Mellon Professor at Vassar College, 1969-70, and Visiting Professor at Yale University, 1971-72. During 1964-66, Stechow served as Advisory Curator on European Art to the Cleveland Museum of Art. He was also appointed the Kress Professor in Residence at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Stechow taught summer sessions at Harvard, New York University, and Middlebury College.
He received an honorary L.H.D. degree from the University of Michigan in 1964. Stechow received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from Oberlin in 1967, and from Baldwin-Wallace College in 1973. Two days before his death in 1974, Stechow learned he was the recipient of the 1975 Award of Art Dealers Association of America for excellence in art history.
He held research grants from the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, the American Philosophical Society, and Oberlin College. He was the director and vice president of the College Art Association of America, trustee of the American Society for Aesthetics, a member of the National Committee on the History of Art and of the advisory councils of the Renaissance Society of America and the Germanic languages at Princeton. He was a member of the Fulbright Selection Committee and the Archeological Institute of America.
Stechow’s list of publications is lengthy. His most notable publications include Dutch Landscape Painting of the Seventeenth Century (1966), Northern Renaissance Art, 1400-1600: Sources and Documents (1967), Rubens and the Classical Tradition (1968) from the Martin Classical Series Lectures, and Pieter Brueghel (1971).
In 1975, the Allen Memorial Art Museum honored Stechow by naming a print study room in the newly remodeled section of the Museum after him.
Stechow married Ursula Hoff (February 15, 1911-January 16, 2008) of Hanover, Germany, a 1942 graduate of Oberlin College, on December 16, 1932. Ursula and Wolfgang met at the University of Göttingen, where Ursula was a student, studying medicine. Wolfgang conducted the orchestra in which Ursula performed. A lifelong music connoisseur, Ursula played the violin and later was a sponsor of the arts in Oberlin.
Ursula Stechow spoke several languages and taught French at Langston Middle School in Oberlin. She was known throughout the community for her dedication and involvement with the arts. She was often called “the bird lady of Oberlin,” a reflection of her compassion for animals.
The couple had three children, Hans Axel Stechow, enrolled at Oberlin College from 1945-53, Barbara Stechow Harris ’60, and Nicola Stechow Memmott ’68.
Wolfgang Stechow died at Princeton Hospital in Princeton, New Jersey, apparently of a heart attack, on October 12, 1974.
Faculty File of Wolfgang Stechow, Alumni Records (RG 28/4), and the papers of Wolfgang Stechow (RG 30/238), OCA.