Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Langer, Gertrude (1908–1984)

by Nancy D. H. Underhill

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Gertrude Langer (1908-1984), art critic and arts advocate, was born on 1 July 1908 in Vienna, elder daughter of Jewish parents Alois Fröschel, manager, and his wife Channa, née Siegmann-Brill.  Registered as Gertrud, she was educated at the Schwarzwaldschule for girls and at the University of Vienna (Ph.D., 1933), where she studied philosophy and the history of medieval art.  She also spent two semesters at the Sorbonne, Paris.  On 14 May 1932 in Vienna she married in civil and Catholic ceremonies Karl Langer; for six years she helped her husband in his architectural practice.  After the Anschluss (1938) the couple left Austria, and in May next year arrived in Sydney.  Moving to Brisbane two months later, they felt isolated from European culture.

Karl established a career in town planning and architecture.  At first Gertrude conducted private introductory courses on art history and appreciation in her home.  Soon assuming the self-appointed (but justifiable) mantle of Brisbane’s authority on art, in 1956-84 she was chief art critic for the Courier-Mail.  Her reviews were essentially descriptive, but she became a committed supporter of contemporary Australian art.  David Bray later described her as a 'formidable figure', feared and respected.  However, her air of cultural superiority masked a sensitive, perhaps vulnerable, personality.

Gertrude Langer was a founding member (1961) of the Queensland branch of the International Association of Art Critics, and was deputy-president (1970-72) and president (1975-78) of the Australian division.  Helping to establish (1957) the Queensland division of the Arts Council of Australia, she served as president (1961-75), overseeing its growth into the largest State division in the country.  An extensive touring program, encompassing a wide range of activities including ballet, opera, theatre and art exhibitions, was developed.  Langer was also honorary director (1962-77) of the annual residential school of creative arts, held at the University of Queensland.  On the council’s federal board (1964-75) and on the State board until her death, she was made a life member in 1975.  In 1968 she had been appointed OBE.

Possessing prodigious energy, Langer regularly delivered public lectures on art.  A member of the Queensland Art Gallery Society from 1952 and a committee-member (1955-81), she was president in 1965-66 and 1974-75.  She donated art works to the gallery and served as patron (1976-84) of Brisbane’s Institute of Modern Art; in 1980 she became the first fellow of the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation.

Widowed in 1969 and childless, Langer died on 19 September 1984 at Binna Burra, near Canungra, and was cremated.  Next year the Queensland Art Gallery held an exhibition, 'In Memory of Dr Gertrude Langer O.B.E.', displaying her substantial bequest of art works, books and catalogues.  In 1987 the Langer memorial committee published a selection of her poems, Love Transcends Death: Poems for my Beloved Karl, edited by Desmond MacAulay.  A prize for the best ensemble at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music and an annual lecture at the QAG were named after her.  The University of Queensland and the Queensland College of Art instituted Karl and Gertrude Langer student prizes.  The QAG holds portraits of Langer by Nan Paterson, Gordon Shepherdson, Andrew Sibley and Peter Tyndall.

Select Bibliography

  • In Memory of Dr Gertrude Langer O.B.E., 1985
  • K. Bittman (ed), Strauss to Matilda, 1988
  • M. Jurgensen and A. Corkhill (eds), The German Presence in Queensland over the Last 150 Years, 1988
  • Art and Australia, vol 22, no 3, 1985, p 326
  • Art and Australia, vol 30, no 4, 1993, p 514
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 6 March 1975, p 12
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 'Great Weekend', 20 June 1987, p 3
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 20 September 1984, p 3
  • B. Blackman, interview with Langer (typescript, 1982, National Library of Australia)
  • Langer papers (University of Queensland Library)

Citation details

Nancy D. H. Underhill, 'Langer, Gertrude (1908–1984)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/langer-gertrude-14095/text25084, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 15 November 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2019

Gertrude Langer, 1940

Gertrude Langer, 1940

State Library of Queensland, 196740

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Fröschel, Gertrud
Birth

1 July 1908
Vienna, Austria

Death

19 September 1984
Binna Burra, Queensland, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation