Henry Koerner was in his 20s when he fled Vienna in 1938 to escape the Nazis, who seized control of Austria.
The artist’s memories of that era were vivid partly because he saw Nazi Luftwaffe chief, Hermann Göring, coming into Vienna with Adolf Hitler. Years later, while working as a court artist at the Nuremberg trials, Koerner sketched Goring and Rudolf Hess.
After leaving his native Austria, he eventually landed in New York City. By 1939, he was employed as a graphic artist in Manhattan, designing book covers for mysteries and detective stories. In the 1940s, he received widespread recognition for poster designs. The U.S. Army drafted him in 1943 and he served in Washington, D.C. and London.
After the war, LIFE magazine called a 1947 exhibition of Koerner’s artwork in Berlin “the most important paintings to come out of the war.” One of the pictures, titled “My Parents,” brought him international acclaim. Mr. Koerner’s parents and his brother died in Nazi-run concentration camps.
In 1952, Koerner arrived in Pittsburgh and became an artist in residence at the Pennsylvania College for Women, now Chatham University. A year later, he married Joan Frasher. They met while he was painting a series of portraits showing students playing musical instruments.
Intelligent, imaginative and uncompromising, Koerner loved the Pittsburgh landscape and painted it often. He carried his easels and paints on his bicycle. His artistic influences were Paul Cezanne and Peter Breughel. While he said that he saw his work as a bridge between the baroque and the surreal, he was an exemplar of magic realism, a form of fantasy with elements of the real and surreal.
From 1955 to 1967, he painted 41 covers for Time magazine. The celebrities who sat for him included Nelson and David Rockefeller, composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein, President John F. Kennedy and his brother, Robert, opera singers Maria Callas and Leontyne Price, actress Julie Harris and singer Barbra Streisand.
In 1962, he began creating multi-panel paintings. In 1983, he had a one-man retrospective at Carnegie Museum of Art. A year later, while mountain climbing in Austria, he fell 30 feet and managed to grab a ledge. His son, Joseph, ran two hours to get help and his father was rescued by a helicopter.
The artist rented an apartment in Vienna nearly every summer and painted. He was bicycling near that city during the summer of 1991 when he was struck by a car. He died a month later at age 75.
One of Koerner’s paintings, “It Isn’t the Heat, It’s the Humidity,” is on view at Carnegie Museum of Art. It’s among the artworks that were acquired during past Carnegie Internationals. Many of those paintings were reinstalled for the current Carnegie International, which remains on view through March 16.