Jewish Museum in Prague, Robert Guttmann Gallery, U Staré školy 3, Prague 1
7 September – 6 November 2005
Studies and early Works
Jilovsky was born on 15 March 1884 in the Vinohrady district of Prague. His parents, Josef Jilovsky (1852–1921) and Julie (née Heller, 1863–1939), came from small villages in Central Bohemia and moved to Prague shortly before he was born. The second of seven children, Georg had six siblings – Emil (1882), Pavel (1889), František (1894) and Richard (1897), Helena (1885) and Edita (1908). Growing up in a bilingual environment, as was typical of his family background, he attended a Czech elementary school and used both the Czech and German forms of his first name.
Although Jilovsky’s family had intended him to pursue a career in business, he went against his father’s will – like many of his contemporaries – and, in 1900, enrolled at Prague’s School of Decorative Arts. He was taught there by E. K. Liška and Jakub Schikaneder, as well as by Jan Preisler and Felix Jenewein. In 1904 he moved to the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, where he studied with Franz Thiele until 1907. After a brief study trip to Munich, he returned to Prague in 1908 and established a loft studio in a newly built house at Haštalská Street 6, which he used until the end of the 1930s. In 1904–1909, 1912 and 1914, he went on study trips to Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and France. He became a member of the “Society of German Fine Artists in Bohemia”, “Hagenbund” and the “Association of German Writers and Artists CONCORDIA”. In 1915 he took part in the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, in February 1917 he held his first one-man show at the Rubešův Salon in Prague and, later, he exhibited in Ústí nad Labem, Brno, Linz, Vienna, Berlin, Breslau, Hamburg, Munich, Dresden and St. Louis.
While at the School of Decorative Arts, Jilovsky began to design invitations to balls, dance programmes, wedding announcements, postcards, caricatures, exhibitions posters, books, industrial advertisements and, in particular, ex libris. He established a reputation as a fine artist with a series of effective graphic sheets, mostly from 1906–14, which contain atmospheric motifs of old Prague. These mostly use the techniques of etching and aquatint and are based on motifs from the nooks and crannies and lanes in the Old, Jewish and Lesser Towns and around Prague Castle. This works were often exhibited and immediately attracted critical attention.
Beginning in 1904, Jilovsky made about 120 ex-libris using various graphic techniques. These, his smallest artworks, probably gained the most popularity and received the most attention. His early style was one of high Art Nouveau decorativism. He later depicted atmospheric natural scenes and, in the 1920s, was inspired mostly by ancient symbols and allegories. The most striking change in his style occurred in the 1930s with a move towards greater simplicity, contrastive drawing, matter-of-factness and symbolism. His clients were mostly from Prague’s intelligentsia, particularly doctors, lawyers, technicians and business people. The only well-known literary figure was the Prague poet and writer Oskar Wiener (1873–1944), with whom Jilovsky had a life-long friendship. The exhibition of Jilovsky’s ex libris was held by Krasoumná jednota in Prague Rudolfinum in 1927.
Jilovsky was also a capable painter. His paintings are mostly portraits and landscapes, but also include city vistas, genre scenes, still-lifes and decorative compositions. From the early portraits, which were painted with smooth and carefully shaded techniques, one can follow his development to a freer, palette-knifed painterly expression and an Art Deco style of portraiture through to the realism of his last period. In February 1915 Jilovsky enlisted as an infantry volunteer and in the following year saw action in the Battle of Galicia, where he began to draw portrait studies of Austrian soldiers of all types, ranks and nationalities. His monotype War (1918) is a symbolic depiction of his battle experiences and of the suffering of the War.
From September 1921, Jilovsky was the artistic head of the Promotional Department of “La Tricolore” in Prague. In July 1924 he married Marie Meusel (1889–1948), a lady’s dressmaker in Prague. Their marriage was undoubtedly happy one, they both worked at home, often sharing clientele. Their first son, Hanuš, was born in January 1926, the second, Arnošt, in February 1931.
WORK FOR THEATRE
From 1928 Jilovsky worked as a set designer for Prague’s New German Theatre. His most important set designs were for productions of the operas “The Hugenots” (1928), “The Marriage of Figaro” and “Romeo and Juliet” (1929). One of his most successful set designs was for a production of Weinberger’s opera “Schwanda der Dudelsackpfeifer” (1929). In 1931 Jilovsky received a state award for the set designs he created for the New German Theatre. At the time, he also made a series of caricatures of musicians, composers and performers for Prague newspapers, such as A. Zemlinsky, E. Schulhoff, F. Finke, T. Volkner, director R. Stadler and critics F. Adler, E. Rychnovsky and E. Steinhard.
After the Nazi occupation of the Czech lands, the Nuremberg race laws were introduced with retrospective effect in the Nazi Protectorate and new anti-Jewish regulations were issued on an almost daily basis. Jilovsky’s siblings and their families were deported to the Terezín ghetto, as was his eldest son Hanuš. On 3 September 1943, Jilovsky and his wife Marie were arrested for illicit correspondence with their son. In late September 1943, they were both deported to Terezín and sent to the Gestapo prison in the Small Fortress. In February 1944 Jilovsky was sent to Auschwitz and his wife was sent to Ravensbrück Concentration Camp. In November 1944, Jilovsky with several other artists were transferred to Sachsenhausen, where they were joined a „counterfeiting gang“. In late February 1945 the group were transferred to Mauthausen, in March to sub-camp Schlier in Redl-Zipf and finally to the Ebensee Concentration Camp, which was liberated by the US army on 6 May.
After two years in Nazi concentration camps, Jilovsky returned to Prague on 21 May 1945. Bad news awaited him. His sons Hanuš and Arnošt had perished in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, as had many of his siblings and other relatives. His wife returned from Ravensbrück with tuberculosis of the lungs, from which she died in January 1948. Jilovsky tried to return to his work. From 1949 he was a member of “The Society of Collectors and Friends of Ex libris in Prague” and, a little later, also a member of the newly founded “Association of Czechoslovak Artists”. He died after a brief illness on 16 February 1958 at the age of 74 at his home in Prague.
This exhibitions features Jilovsky’s drawings, graphic work and paintings from the collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague, the Terezín Memorial, the National Gallery in Prague, the National Museum in Prague, the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague and the City of Prague Museum. We would like to thank the latter for kindly loaning this material.