Harry Graf von Kessler


Publisher, art patron, politician, diplomat. Born Harry Clemens Ulrich Kessler 23 May 1868 in Paris. His father was German, his mother Anglo-Irish. Kessler was first educated in Paris; later spent two years at school in Ascot before transferring to Hamburg. 1888: studied law at University of Bonn. 1889: studied law, economics, art history at University of Leipzig. ‘Cosmopolitan through birth and education, Kessler had chosen German nationality, allying himself with the classical humanist tradition embodied in Goethe, Kant, and the Humboldts.’ (Newman, 1995, p. 3) Interested in Diplomacy, by 1894 he had also turned to art, becoming involved with the journal Pan (1895-1900; board member from 1896) and with artists such as van de Velde. 1904: organised New English Art exhibition, Weimar; became increasingly interested in book design and printing. 1909-10: designed with Emery Walker the Grossherzog Wilhelm Ernst Edition of the German classics, one title of which was Goethe’s Dramatische Dichtungen (Dramatic Poems) ; Kessler commissioned Eric Gill to design the title page (other title pages designed by Edward Johnston). July 1913: founded the Cranach Presse (1913-31), a private venture, at Weimar. 1914-16: military service. 1918: appointed Minister to Poland by the Weimar Republic; moved in the highest social and political circles. April 1922: member of German delegation to European Industrial Conference, Genoa. ‘ The Cranach Press Hamlet [1930, English ed.; woodcuts by Gordon Craig, printed by Poeschel] is the most outstanding example of the influence in Germany of the English revival of fine printing.’ (Printing and the Mind of Man) ‘Privately, Poesch[ e]l told me that the Hamlet caused him a sleepless night, so excited had he been by it.’ (Kessler, Diaries, p. 381)

On 15 September 1930 he wrote: ‘National Socialism is a delirium of the German lower middle class. The poison of its disease may however bring down ruin on Germany and Europe for decades ahead.’ (Diaries)

On 25 April 1932 he wrote: ‘I…recognize two characteristics as being absolutely and inalterably basic to all Germans, but especially the younger generation, whether they belong to left or right, the Communists, the Nazis, the Social Democrats or the middle class: escape into metaphysics, into some sort of “faith”, and the desire for discipline, for standing to attention and receiving orders or issuing them. The German, because of some feeling or other of insecurity, is through and through a militarist and through and through an escapist into some kind of beyond or Utopia, and the awful part is that he mixes them together!’ (Diaries)

February 1933: co-organiser of the anti-fascist congress ‘Das freie Wort’ in Berlin. March 1933: ‘[ A]s a democrat and pacifist [he] was advised to leave Germany for good.’ (L.M. Newman, 1995, p. 222)

1933-7: Kessler travelled between Paris, London, Switzerland, Palma and Pontanevaux. Died 30 November 1937 in Lyon, France. Interred at Père-Lachaise Cemetery, Paris.

‘…[ E]nforced exile was felt by Kessler as the culmination of a progressive betrayal by the nation to which he had devoted his life….Through serving he had hoped to lead, but it was as a benefactor – of Maillol, van de Velde, Munch, Craig, and many others – that Count Harry Kessler enriched civilization. His greatest personal fulfilment lay in the works of art which he had commissioned, in his own writings, and in the Cranach Press, three of whose titles, one of them Hamlet, are immortal.’ (L.M. Newman, 1995, pp. 225-6) ‘A few productions of the press at Weimar are among the immortal treasures of the art of the book in Germany… .These are true examples of the European creative spirit – long dreamt of, realised over many years of endeavour, and soon after buried by an avalanche of barbaric nationalism.’ (Schauer, 1966, p. 121)

Writings by

  • Notizen über Mexico (self-published), 1898
  • ‘Edward Gordon Craig’s Entwürfe für Theater-Dekorationen und Kostüme’ (intro. to exh. cat.), Katalog. 1904, Berlin: Friedmann & Weber, 1904
  • foreword to E. Gordon Craig, Die Kunst des Theaters, Berlin/Leipzig: Seeman, 1905 (2nd ed.)
  • foreword to Modernen Druck und Schreib Kunst (exh. cat.), Weimar: Grossherzogliches Museum für Kunst und Kunstgewerbe, April-May 1905
  • Krieg und Zusammenbruch aus Feldpostbriefen, 1914-18, Weimar, 1921
  • ‘In dem Trümmern der Maya-Welt’ (1896 travels), Das Inselschiff, 1922, pp. 57-65
  • ‘Reminiszenz’, Navigare necesse est (Festschrift to Anton Kippenberg), Leipzig: Insel, 1924
  • Walther Rathenau. Sein Leben und sein Werk, Berlin-Grunewald: Klemm, 1928 (later eds .: London: Howe, 1929, Wiesbaden: Rheinische Verlags-Anstalt (date?), and Frankfurt: S. Fischer, 1967)
  • Maillol (tr. J.H. Mason, 1928), London County Council Central School of Arts and Crafts, 1930
  • ‘Verzeichnis der Drucke der Cranach-Presse in Weimar’ (bibliography of the Cranach-Presse, to 1931), Imprimatur, 1931, pp. 107-12
  • Gesichter und Zeiten. Erinnerungen, Berlin: Fischer, 1935
  • H.v. Hofmannsthal/H.G. Kessler. Briefwechsel 1898-1929, Frankfurt: Burger, 1968
  • The Diaries of a Cosmopolitan[,] 1918-1937 (tr. Charles Kessler), London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1971, 1999 (pb: 2000)
  • Hans-Ulrich Simon (ed.), Eberhard von Bodenhausen/Harry Graf Kessler. Ein Briefwechsel 1894-1918, Marbach an Neckar: Simon, 1978 (Marbacher Schriften 16)
  • L.M. Newman, ed., The Correspondence of Edward Gordon Craig and Count Harry Kessler 1903-37, Leeds: Maney, 1995 (contains excellent chronology of both men
  • the editor’s text is detailed and very informative).

Writings about

  • 1928-50: Philobiblon, April 1928, p. 7 (brief note on the Cranach Press Hamlet)
  • Philobiblon, July 1930, back cover: ad for Hamlet (Random House)
  • Rudolf Alexander Schröder, ‘Die Cranach-Presse in Weimar’, Imprimatur, 1931, pp. 92-107 (ad for Cranach Press books at end of adv. section)
  • Fritz Homeyer, ‘Germany’, in ‘A survey of the making of books in recent years’, The Dolphin, 1933, pp. 264-88, esp. p. 281
  • Philobiblon, 1937?, v. 1, p. 63 (brief obituary) Georg Ecke, ‘Die Cranach-Presse in Weimar’, Philobiblon, v. 6, 1938, p. 227, and pp. 224-6
  • Heinrich Jost, ‘Die neue Buchkunst in Deutschland’ (typographic design changes), Imprimatur, 1939/40, pp. 105-28
  • Julius Zeitler, ‘Vom Pressendruck in Vergangenheit und Gegenwart’, Archiv für Buchgewerbe und Gebrauchsgraphik, Leipzig: Deutsche Buchgewerbeverein., 1939, pp. 187-202
  • 1951-80: Karl H. Salzmann, ‘Harry Graf Kessler’, Aus dem Antiquariat, 1951, 3
  • Priscilla Johnston, Edward Johnston, London: Faber and Faber, 1959
  • Printing and the Mind of Man (exh. cat.), London, 1963
  • GKS, 1963, pp. 89-93
  • Alan Fern, ‘The Count and the calligrapher’, Apollo, March 1964
  • John Dreyfus, Italic Quartet, Cambridge: University Printing House, 1966
  • Georg Kurt Schauer, ‘The Art of the Book in Germany…’, in Book Typography 1815-1965, (Kenneth Day, ed.)., London: Ernest Benn Ltd, 1966
  • Renate Müller-Krumbach, Harry Graf Kessler und die Cranach-Presse in Weimar, Hamburg: Maximilian-Gesellschaft, 1969 (includes catalogue of Cranach productions, bibliography)
  • 75 Jahre Insel Verlag, Frankfurt a.M.: Insel, 1974
  • Edward Craig, ‘Edward Gordon Craig’s Hamlet’, The Private Library, Spring 1977, pp. 35-48
  • GKS, 1978
  • Colin Franklin, ‘The influence of the English private presses’ (text of a talk, Munich, May 1978), Aus dem Antiquariat, no. 7, 1978, pp. A293-302
  • Colin Franklin, Fond of Printing/Gordon Craig as Typographer & Illustrator, New York: The Typophiles, 1980
  • L.M. Newman, ‘Artist and Printer: a Problem of the Cranach Press Hamlet Resolved’, Matrix 4, 1984, pp. 1-12
  • Die Insel und die moderne deutsche Buchkunst (auction cat. 257), Hamburg: Hauswedell & Nolte, 21/22 May 1985
  • Walter Wilkes, ‘Handpressendruck in Deutschland im 20. Jahrhundert’, Imprimatur, Band XII, 1987, pp. 11-19
  • Adela Spindler Roatcap, ‘The Book as Theatre: The Cranach Press Hamlet’, Fine Print, Jan. 1988, pp. 26-33
  • Gerhard Schuster and Margot Pehle, Harry Graf Kessler/Tagebuch eines Weltmannes (exh. cat.), Marbach am Neckar: Deutsche Schillergesellschaft, 1988
  • The Black Figures of Edward Gordon Craig, Wellingborough: The September Press, 1989
  • C.E., review of The Black Figures of Edward Gordon Craig, in Fine Print, Summer 1990, pp. 77-8, 86-7
  • Herbert Kästner, ‘Buchillustration im Insel-Verlag 1899-1930’, Aus dem Antiquariat, 1990, 5, pp. A181-98
  • R. Müller-Krumbach (foreword), Die Cranach-Presse des Grafen Kessler in Weimar (dealer’s cat.), Ramsen, Switzerland, and Rotthalmünster, Germany: Heribert Tenschert, 1994
  • 1996-present: Peter Grupp, Harry Graf Kessler, Munich: C.H. Beck, 1996
  • T. Neteler, ‘Die Bibliophilen Alfred Walter Heymel und Harry Graf Kessler’, Aus dem Antiquariat, 6/1997
  • Carina Schäfer, Maurice Denis et le comte Kessler (1902-13), Frankfurt a.M./Berlin/New York, Lang, 1997 (French text
  • inc . correspondence between MD and Kessler)
  • Erik Stephan and others, Harry Graf Kessler – Cranach Presse Weimar (exh. cat.), Bonn: Burgk/Saale, Museum Schloss, 1999
  • Renate Müller-Krumbach, ‘Harry Graf Kesslers Cranach-Presse in Weimar’, Librarium, 1/2000
  • Laird M. Easton, The Red Count/The life and times of Harry Kessler, Berkeley, CA: University of California, 2002
  • Tamara Barzantny, Harry Graf Kessler und das Theater, Cologne: Bhlau, 2002
  • Deutsche Buchkunst im zwanzigsten Jahrhundert (exh. cat.), Hamburg: Hauswedell & Nolte, 2002
  • John Dieter Brinks, Das Buch als Kunstwerk. Die Cranach-Presse des Grafen Harry Kessler (exh. cat.), Laubach/Berlin: Triton, 2003
  • Sabine Knopf, ‘“Das Buch als Kunstwerk”. Eine Austellung zu Harry Graf Kesslers Cranach-Presse in Weimar’, Marginalien, 2003/4, pp. 62-5
  • J.D. (ed.) and contributions from others, The Book as a Work of Art: The Cranach Press of Count Harry Kessler, Berlin/Williamstown, MA: Triton Verlag (2004)/Chapin Library, Williams College, Williamstown, 2005
  • Sebastian Carter, review of Brinks (ed.), The Book as a Work of Art, in The Times Literary Supplement, 14 April 2006, p. 28
  • Joel Silver, review of Brinks (ed.), The Book as a Work of Art, in Matrix 26, Winter 2006, pp. 179-81.
  • 1981-95: International Biographical Dictionary of Central European Emigrés 1933-45, Munich, New York, London, Paris: K.G. Saur, 1983., 1983
  • Deutsche Biographische Enzyklopädie, Munich, London, New Providence: K.G. Saur 1995- (from 1997: Munich only)., 1997


  • University Library, Heidelberg, 1972
  • Marbach, 1988
  • Museum Schloss, Burgk/Saale, 1999
  • Hauswedell & Nolte, Hamburg, 2002
  • Neuen Museum, Weimar, 2003, followed by Staatsbibliothek, Berlin (2004), Chapin Library, Williamstown, MA.
  • St Bride Library, London, 2006 (Hamlet).


  • (Cranach-Presse) Klingspor Museum, Offenbach a.M.