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Kramrisch, Stella, 1898-1993

 Person

As a teacher, lecturer, curator and prolific writer, Stella Kramrisch (1898-1993) devoted nearly 70 years to the study and appreciation of Indian art. In remembering Kramrisch, Thomas Lawton, the former deputy director of the Freer Gallery of Art, observed that “all students of Indian culture must acknowledge an intellectual indebtedness” to Kramrisch’s numerous and highly original scholarly contributions.

Stella Kramirsch was born May 29, 1898 in the Moravian town of Nikolsburg (now Mikulov), Austria. When she was about ten years old, her family moved to Vienna. Her early years of education there included Greek, Latin and German philosophy, which introduced her to Indian literature. At the University of Vienna, Kramrisch complimented her studies in art history with courses on Sanskrit, and with the completion of her dissertation on early Buddhist sculpture in India, she received her doctoral degree in 1919. That same year, Kramrisch was invited to lecture at Oxford University. While in England, she met the Bengali writer and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore, who was Asia’s first Nobel Laureate, having received the Nobel Prize in literature in 1913. At that time, Tagore was involved in establishing an international university that would bring together scholars from East and West cultures. The university, which is known today as Visva Bharati, was located in the town of Santiniketan in West Bengal, India, and Tagore invited Kramrisch to go there to teach at Kala Bhavan, the university’s College of Fine Arts and Crafts. Accepting the offer, Kramrisch sailed to India in 1920 and taught Indian art and a survey of Western art at the college. In 1923 she left Bengal and joined the faculty at the University of Calcutta, becoming its first professor of Indian Art. The following year, Kramrisch published her first book, Principles of Indian Art, (translated from German), which prominent contemporary scholars highly praised. From 1937 to 1940, Kramrisch spent part of each year in London lecturing at the Courtlauld Institute.

In 1950 Kramrisch came to the United States to join the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia as a Professor of South Asian Art, and she continued to teach there until 1969. In 1954, Kramrisch also took on the role of curator of Indian art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and served as such until 1972. From 1972 until her death in 1993, Kramrisch oversaw the department as Curator Emeritus. Undaunted by the academic and curatorial demands made of her in Philadelphia, Kramrisch also accepted an appointment at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts, and taught as a Professor of Indian Art from 1964 to 1982. As noted in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s published memorial, Kramrisch’s writings were even more far-reaching as many of her books continue to be used in universities around the world.

During her tenure at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Kramrisch developed its holdings in Indian and Himalayan art and staged a series of ambitious exhibitions that, accompanied by the catalogues and related studies that she wrote, brought significant recognition to the Museum and to the field of Indian art and culture. One such exhibition opened in 1968. Entitled “Unknown India: Ritual Art in Tribe and Village,” it showcased nearly 500 religious and secular objects. After twelve years of planning, research and negotiations, another ground-breaking exhibition, “Manifestations of Shiva” opened in 1981. It was the first major exhibition in this country to examine the religious deity and to explore the multiple interpretations of its meaning. Many of the 197 objects displayed had never before left India. As to the Museum’s own collections, Kramrisch oversaw important acquisitions, including a 6th century bronze mask of Shiva, a bronze figure of Rama made during the Chola dynasty of Southern India, and “Radha and Krishna,” a painting by a Kishangarh school artist.

Kramrisch received worldwide recognition for her many achievements, including honorary degrees from Visvabharati University (1974) and from the University of Pennsylvania (1981). At a ceremony held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1979, Kramrisch was given the Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art, and in 1985 she received the Freer Medal for her contribution to the “understanding of Oriental civilization as reflected in their arts.” Perhaps the most telling statement of Kramrisch’s life’s work came in 1982 when the Indian government presented her with its highest civilian honor of Padma Bhushan. Kramrisch received the honor for “stimulating a renewed interest not only in the artistic heritage of India but also in its underlying philosophies and world view.” Stella Kramrisch died on August 31, 1993, at the age of 97.

Found in 14 Collections and/or Records:

Indian Art Department Records

 Collection
Identifier: IND
Abstract The Indian Art Department Records consist primarily of general correspondence and exhibition records that document the department's activities during Stella Kramrisch's tenure as curator.
Dates: circa 1896-1999, undated

Kramrisch, Stella, 1954

 File — Box: 96, Folder: 12
Scope and Contents From the Series: Comprising the largest portion of the Fiske Kimball Records, this series clearly documents Kimball's extensive contact with the institutions, individuals, and businesses that collectively directed and promoted art and artists, and a public appreciation for both. Kimball cultivated a variety of correspondents, from dealers and donors to museums, educational institutions and professional organizations. Throughout the three decades documented, antiques and art dealers appear to be Kimball's most...
Dates: 1954

Kramrisch, Stella, 1952

 File — Box: 83, Folder: 24
Scope and Contents From the Series: Comprising the largest portion of the Fiske Kimball Records, this series clearly documents Kimball's extensive contact with the institutions, individuals, and businesses that collectively directed and promoted art and artists, and a public appreciation for both. Kimball cultivated a variety of correspondents, from dealers and donors to museums, educational institutions and professional organizations. Throughout the three decades documented, antiques and art dealers appear to be Kimball's most...
Dates: 1952

Kramrisch, Stella. Collection. Inventories, 1993-1994

 File — Box: 76, Folder: 15
Scope and Contents From the Sub-Series: As evidenced in the records of the previous subseries, the Landmark Renewal campaign afforded the museum the opportunity to enhance nearly every aspect of its art collection, from display to scholarship. This subseries documents another ambitious program to improve the 24-acre grounds surrounding the "temple on the hill." The Landscape Rehabilitation Project was initiated by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS), another venerable Philadelphia institution, as part of its Philadelphia...
Dates: 1993-1994

Kramrisch, Stella. Collection. Proposed exhibitions and other issues. Incl. writings re PMA bequest, 1994-1995

 File — Box: 76, Folder: 16
Scope and Contents From the Sub-Series: As evidenced in the records of the previous subseries, the Landmark Renewal campaign afforded the museum the opportunity to enhance nearly every aspect of its art collection, from display to scholarship. This subseries documents another ambitious program to improve the 24-acre grounds surrounding the "temple on the hill." The Landscape Rehabilitation Project was initiated by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS), another venerable Philadelphia institution, as part of its Philadelphia...
Dates: 1994-1995

Kramrisch, Stella. Concert tribute, 1993-1994

 File — Box: 76, Folder: 17
Scope and Contents From the Sub-Series: As evidenced in the records of the previous subseries, the Landmark Renewal campaign afforded the museum the opportunity to enhance nearly every aspect of its art collection, from display to scholarship. This subseries documents another ambitious program to improve the 24-acre grounds surrounding the "temple on the hill." The Landscape Rehabilitation Project was initiated by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS), another venerable Philadelphia institution, as part of its Philadelphia...
Dates: 1993-1994

Kramrisch, Stella. Condolence responses and annual report mailings, 1993-1994

 File — Box: 76, Folder: 19
Scope and Contents From the Sub-Series: As evidenced in the records of the previous subseries, the Landmark Renewal campaign afforded the museum the opportunity to enhance nearly every aspect of its art collection, from display to scholarship. This subseries documents another ambitious program to improve the 24-acre grounds surrounding the "temple on the hill." The Landscape Rehabilitation Project was initiated by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS), another venerable Philadelphia institution, as part of its Philadelphia...
Dates: 1993-1994

Kramrisch, Stella. Condolences and related correspondence, 1993-1994

 File — Box: 76, Folder: 18
Scope and Contents From the Sub-Series: As evidenced in the records of the previous subseries, the Landmark Renewal campaign afforded the museum the opportunity to enhance nearly every aspect of its art collection, from display to scholarship. This subseries documents another ambitious program to improve the 24-acre grounds surrounding the "temple on the hill." The Landscape Rehabilitation Project was initiated by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS), another venerable Philadelphia institution, as part of its Philadelphia...
Dates: 1993-1994

Kramrisch, Stella. Estate, January-April 1995

 File — Box: 77, Folder: 1
Scope and Contents From the Sub-Series: As evidenced in the records of the previous subseries, the Landmark Renewal campaign afforded the museum the opportunity to enhance nearly every aspect of its art collection, from display to scholarship. This subseries documents another ambitious program to improve the 24-acre grounds surrounding the "temple on the hill." The Landscape Rehabilitation Project was initiated by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS), another venerable Philadelphia institution, as part of its Philadelphia...
Dates: January-April 1995

Kramrisch, Stella. Estate, May-August 1995

 File — Box: 77, Folder: 2
Scope and Contents From the Sub-Series: As evidenced in the records of the previous subseries, the Landmark Renewal campaign afforded the museum the opportunity to enhance nearly every aspect of its art collection, from display to scholarship. This subseries documents another ambitious program to improve the 24-acre grounds surrounding the "temple on the hill." The Landscape Rehabilitation Project was initiated by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS), another venerable Philadelphia institution, as part of its Philadelphia...
Dates: May-August 1995