Walter Ferdinand Friedlaender was born in 1873 in Glogau, now Glogow, Poland, the son of Sigismund Friedlaender and Anna Joachimsthal. His parents died while he was young, and at thirteen he went to live with an older sister in Berlin. He attended the University of Berlin, and received his doctorate in Sanskrit in 1898; his dissertation, a translation with annotations of a portion of the Mahabarata, was published two years later. Shortly thereafter he went to London to study at the British Museum on a post-doctoral fellowship. While there, he visited the National Gallery where he developed an interest in art history.
After returning to Berlin, Freidlaender studied art history under Heinrich Wölfflin although he was unable to pursue a second doctorate in the field of art history. In 1904 his reviews of art exhibitions began to be published, sometimes under the name Friedrich Walter. In 1912 Friedlaender wrote a book on the frescoes of Federico Barocci, and in 1914 his book Nicolas Poussin was published. That same year he married Emma Cardin and became a Privatdozent at the University of Freiburg’s recently founded art history department, headed by Wilhelm Vöge. Friedlaender would stay at the university until he left Germany in 1933. His research and teaching there largely focused on the work of Nicolas Poussin as well as the artists presently often referred to as the mannerists; Friedlaender termed them anti-classicists. Among Friedlaender’s students was Erwin Panofsky. Several of his lectures from this time period were published by the Warburg Institute in 1925 and 1930.
Walter Friedlaender was dismissed from his university position in 1933, just prior to his retirement, because of his Jewish heritage. With the aid of his former student, Erwin Panofsky, he was able to procure a temporary position at the University of Pennsylvania and then a permanent position at New York University’s Insitute of Fine Arts. In 1943 Friedlaender and his wife separated. Walter Friedlaender’s lectures at the Insitute primarily focused on the same areas of the field he had spent his life studying, and he kept this position until his death in 1966. Several of his earlier German works were published in translation by his students.
From the guide to the Walter Friedlaender Collection, 1900-1966, bulk 1930-1960, (Leo Baeck Institute)