Life and work

James Loeb - Life and work

Dr. Brigitte Salmen, Author

In 1905, the American banker James Loeb decided to go to Europe, to Munich and Murnau. This decision turned out to be a benefit for both art historians and for society, as had already been the case in New York and Boston.  
The son of a German Jewish banker from New York, Loeb worked in his undesired career as a banker until 1902. He then followed his musical affinities and his interest in art history and used his enormous financial wealth for a diverse collection of charities.   
In 1911, at the same time that the works from the Murnau artists, Kandinsky, Münter, Marc and Macke were making their seminal mark as the collective “The Blue Riders,” Loeb had his estate built in Hochried near Murnau, where, since 1907, he had been staying at a health spa.
Loeb lived in Murnau from 1912 onwards and dedicated himself to his outstanding collection of art. The Loeb collection was extensive and richly diverse: it was made up of archaeological works such as Greek terracotta figures, Hellenistic and southern Russian gold jewelry, antique glass as well as Egyptian, Roman, Hellenistic and Etruscan bronzes, among them famous works like the “Poseidon Loeb” and the “Loeb Tripod.”
An equally important achievement – originally derided for its pocket format – was the publication of the works of ancient Greek and Latin poets and writers – the original texts and in English translation – the “Loeb Classical Library.” The project was begun in 1912 and was continually promoted by Loeb, so that by the end of his life, 360 volumes had been published. This project was conceptually so well planned and financially endowed that it continues today and meanwhile encompasses almost 500 volumes.  
Because he was also interested in classical music and played a variety of instruments, Loeb cultivated acquaintances with musicians like Richard Strauss and Max Reger. He also played the cello in musical quartets. In his spacious estate in Murnau-Hochried, built by his Munich friend and architect Carl Sattler, Loeb led a secluded life and maintained contact with only a few friends and family, most notably with the banking family Warburg from Hamburg. The prominent art historian, Aby Warburg (1866-1929), who was twice related to Loeb by marriage, was close to him not only in proximity, but also because of their similar natures, and because of their cultural affinities as well. Both worshipped the German culture, had interests in art history and were passionate collectors. Loeb built an art collection and its associated library, as well as his “Classical Library”: Warbug was concerned with questions of art theory, for instance the investigation of iconology and methodology of art history. He built, similar to Loeb, a corresponding cultural historical research library which was founded in 1900 and still stands in London today.  
Because of his immense wealth, Loeb saw not only the possibility, but took as an obligation to provide extensive social support for others. He donated to and supported a great number of educational and social organizations, not only in the U.S.A. (for example Harvard University), but was also an unusually generous patron in Munich, for example supporting the German Research Institute of Psychiatry (today known as the Max-Planck-Institute for Psychiatry). He also founded the first Munich dormitory for women, the “Marie Antonie House.” In Murnau he generously donated to many needy people, and along with a number of smaller projects, completely underwrote the community’s hospital in 1932.
His diverse social engagements were accomplished without great fuss, in the Jewish tradition, coming from a natural sense of social commitment.
As a patron of the arts, he donated his art collection (part of it during his lifetime already) to the former “Museum Antiker Kleinkunst,” part of the Alten Pinakothek in Munich. (Today the collection is in the state’s collection of antiquities, the “Staatliche Antikensammlungen.”)  
The modesty and reticence of this impressive man make it imperative to make people aware of his important achievements in the area of art history and his enormously beneficial and exemplary patronage in the social sector, something we recognize and appreciate in Murnau particularly.