Hatje was born in Hamburg in 1915. After an apprenticeship as a typesetter in Stuttgart, he started the Humanitas Verlag (publishing house) when he was thirty. The publishing house was renamed Verlag Gerd Hatje in 1947. His varied interests were reflected in his publishing program; in addition to classics and contemporary literature, he also produced books on jazz. One of his earliest publications was a catalogue for a Max Beckmann exhibition and an edition of the German classic The Book of Le Grand by Heinrich Heine.
In the fifties and sixties the great masters of painting, sculpture, and architecture gained importance. These years were marked by Hatje’s contact and friendships with artists, architects, and art historians, including Willi Baumeister, Hans Arp, Georges Braque, Alberto Giacometti, Joan Miró, Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst, Christo, Joseph Beuys, Max Bill, Le Corbusier, Marcel Breuer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, and James Stirling, as well as collaboration with notable international publishers such as Harry N. Abrams, Thames and Hudson, Gustavo Gili, and Eric Hazan. Gerd Hatje concentrated on realizing his dream of publishing art books of the highest quality. In his words, publishing is the process by which “intellectual spaces are made accessible.”
Hatje was motivated by a strong personable conviction, embarking on intellectual adventures with artists and authors, and was always ready to take risks in the interest of a beautiful book. Among the books he published are some of the best designed art, design, and architecture books of the twentieth century, and many were awarded prizes. Hatje was always concerned with quality, both in books and art. He once said, “For me, there is neither a past nor a future in art. A work of art that cannot always exist in the present is not worth talking about.”
In 1990, at the age of 75, Gerd Hatje sold his publishing house to the Dr. Cantz’sche Druckerei, the renowned Stuttgart-based printer of art books. In the beginning, the publishing division Edition Cantz and Verlag Gerd Hatje continued to work independently, but under the management of Annette Kulenkampff the two companies merged as Hatje Cantz in 1999. In the new company, now based in Ostfildern, near Stuttgart, Senior Publisher Gerd Hatje continued his daily routine until almost the very end, coming into the office every day and keeping up on trends in contemporary art. He received many awards for his achievements, including the Medal of Outstanding Merit from the German state of Baden-Württemberg, and was appointed Honorary Senator of the Stuttgart Academy of Arts. Annette Kulenkampff, who has been director for over ten years, and her team will continue publishing in the tradition of Gerd Hatje.