March 17, 1878 - June 4, 1946.

Art historian, author, and educator.

Helen Gardner attended school in Hyde Park where she developed an insightful appreciation of classical cultures. She graduated from the University of Chicago in 1901 with an AB degree with honors in Latin and Greek. After more than a decade of teaching, Gardner returned to the University of Chicago, where she received a Masters Degree in art history in 1917.

In 1919 Helen was appointed head of the photograph and lantern slide department at the Ryerson Library of the Art Institute of Chicago. The following year she was invited to teach the first art history survey course at the School of the Art Institute, where she remained an immensely popular professor until 1942.

In her first book Art through the Ages (1926) Gardner aimed to teach the readers/students to analyze the universal design elements inherent in each work, offering a key with which to open up an understanding and appreciation of art from all cultures and historic periods.

In 1932 her second book, Understanding the Arts was published. She demonstrated how artists of all times, cultures and aesthetic persuasions share the same individual principles in their art making process.

Gardner's aesthetic theory gained popular support both inside and outside the classroom. Her aesthetic theory, which validated modern and non Western Art, influenced the entire field of art history. Frequently revised, Art Through the Ages remains a standard textbook at American schools and universities.

In 1943 Helen Gardner took an extended leave in order to write the 2nd edition of Art through the Ages. Illness prevented her return to the classrooms of the Art Institute but she remained involved in an advisory capacity. Helen Gardner died of breast and spinal cancer, in 1946, at age 68.

  1. Fred S. Kleiner, Christin J. Mamiya, Richard G. Tansey. Art Through The Ages, 11th Edition. Forth Worth: Harcourt College Publishers, 2001.
  2. The Students of The School of The Art Institute. The Bronze Lion. Chicago: H.G. Hallstein, 1925.
  3. Helen Gardner. Art Through The Ages. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1926.
  4. Helen Gardner. From The Bronze Lion, 1925.
  5. Letter from John R. Clark, Special Consultant, USAF1 Editorial Staff New York, to Helen Gardner, June 15, 1944, regarding an art course curriculum Gardner was asked to develop for military personnel returning from their WWII tour of duty.

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