Franz Bernheimer was born in Munich, capital of Bavaria, a city of Baroque and L’art Nouveau architecture.
In the family’s urban home, framed prints of Durer etchings lined one stairwell. Young Franz as schoolboy already identified the linear silhouette of bare trees in winter, the linear cracks in stone pavement underfoot, with the lines the learned hand of Durer could etch upon copper -- to fix forever an image -- and print it on paper. Already "an Augenmenschin” in search of what to see. Franz ventured into baroque churches on his school way, also into the great Alte Pinakothek Museum of Munich - and he drew constantly.
Historic Ludwigsgymnasium, 1917-1927. This humanistic 10 grade school offered beside traditional classic education, a "reale,” scientific track.
Franz was enrolled in the latter due to his resistance to reading, alarming his parents. They supplied language tutors, forbade drawing, and determined that practical medicine would be an appropriate career for their quiet son; in dire contrast to his articulate and brilliant elder brother. (See Richard Bernheimer, b. 1906, professor at Bryn Mawr College, PA, 1933 until his death 1958.) Violin lessons were a rescue in this period, accompanied by Richard at the piano; and eventually an Art Academy student was allowed during summer vacations to instruct in representative drawing. Ernst Klinger and Franz became lifelong friends.
University of Munich, pre-medical BS 1927-1933. University of Zurich medical school, 1935-1938.
Medical anatomy, even microbiology, are visually rich fields. With fine eyesight and mindset to remember seen form and structure, Bernheimer realized that the profession of hospital pathologist could support him to be an artist, a sculptor.So from Munich he toured into Italy in summers until 1934. Then in Zurich until 1938 when German student visas were expired, he pursued along with medicine also printmaking, painting, draftsmanship; and ceramic sculpture with Herman Haller, creator of ‘’The Waldman‘’.
Emigration to USA begun in 1938 with 13 months wait over in Cuba.
On its next crossing, the small Atlantic steamer that had carried Bernheimer to Cuba was torpedoed and sunk. He worked at the Quaker support center for emigrants awaiting US entry, and he toured the beautiful island by each local bus in turn, Havana to end station, his familiar Italian soon enabling American Spanish. In the bush he discovered potters firing cooking vessels; he could join them and model several ceramic heads as learned from Haller in Zurich. He drew & painted on newsprint, over old canvas – on anything; family groups, bearded painters with models, always in bare beach-like surroundings, despite the Cuban verdure: "I was uprooted.” He could fill a crate by December 1939; unknowing that his packed art work from Zurich would be bombed upon the quays of the old French port of Lapalliss.
Bryn Mawr campus, PA, 1940, to Yale, CT, 1941-1944
Within four weeks of arrival in the US to the BrynMawr College campus, Bernheimer was struck by a speeding car and spent 8 months in the Bryn Mawr hospital.
He emerged permanently dependent upon a cane for balance, unable to be a hospital pathologist, but able to be – Richard’s collogues assured him – a teacher of art history and painting in an American small college. In preparation, he was enrolled in the Yale Graduate School; he gained MA and MFA degrees by June 1944, with honors. Among the campus wartime stringencies, one benefit were solo seminars with young George Kubler, a researcher in earlyYukatan/Mayan art and society.
New York City, 1945
Veterans returning from World War II, the displaced and homeless, both academic and unskilled, streamed into New York City with its great museum, universities, myriad ethnic centers, and, hopefully employment. After a single lecture course in Brooklyn, NY, Bernheimer secured a 1-year appointment in VA to Sweet Briar College, starting fall 1947, to teach history of art and studios. And he found a wife: Alice Hering, graduate of Wilson College, PA.
Sweet Briar, 1947-1958
The red brick- white arcaded buildings of Sweet Briar College (architect Ralph Adams Cram) are handsomely sited on a wide plantation in central Virginia, USA. Instituted in 1901, it was soon absorbed into the trend of private women’s colleges offering beside the literary arts, basic science and some professional studies. Franz Bernheimer’s first visit to the new job in this green world became the pattern for a dozen subsequent summers as his tenure was renewed. The couple swam and hiked, and he painted at home when other faculty left – with the significant exception of 1955-56, his own sabbatical adventure in Mexico. In May 1958 Bernheimer resigned to undertake further studies, chiefly lithography, at the University of Iowa, with summer programs for his family.
In Munich in those years, American occupying forces had returned LBKG, the respected Bernheimer dealership in antique furnishings and fabrics, to Consul Otto Bernheimer, brother of Franz's father (deceased in 1933). Now a change in management there required that Franz fly not west to Iowa – but east to Germany where he had never intended to dwell again. For four years he solved this problem by travelling north to meetings from a village near Verona. In September 1961 Bernheimer moved to Israel. He settled in Tivon near Haifa, and taught small classes.
University of Haifa, 1968-1979; retirement
When the new University of Haifa added an art department in 1967-1968, Franz Bernheimer persuaded the chairman that representative drawing as a tool of seeing and understanding the real world needed to be taught, especially to "the children of The Book”, to widen the dominant literary associations.
Only classes in painting had been planned, but after a trial semester, Bernheimer teaching formal drawing was added to the curriculum. Franz is remembered as teaching perspective like a scientist, and for describing the wonders of Italian Renaissance like an artist.
In June, 1989, Haifa University honored Bernheimer with a retrospective exhibition coincident with its 20th Anniversary Celebration and Statutory Inauguration, a weeklong gala event with foreign guests.
(See list of Franz Bernheimer solo and museum exhibitions.)
Last years to March 1997
Franz habitually drew while standing; "You have to put your back into it!” and he preferred to view pictures, also to speak, from a standing position. The strain slowed him, --- although he could dictate the placement of perhaps his most beautiful exhibition, large sheets. In the Jerusalem Artists’ House in June 1992, with assistance of his wife and his first Tivon friend Mordechai Gumpl. Then he ceased to travel, and died at home on March 15, 1997. He is buried in the Tivon cemetery, a hill slope overlooking the wide Jezreel Valley. A sprouted fruit from a flowerpot took root between stones and became a loquat tree, responsive to the wind and feeding the birds.