EMIL ORLIK (1870–1932) - Portraits of Friends and Contemporaries
Robert Guttmann Gallery
PRAGUE AND MUNICH (1891–1899)
Orlik’s earliest portraits date from his student years at the Munich Academy, 1891–1893. In 1896 Orlik returned to Munich and, together with Bernhard Pankok, spent a year experimenting with print techniques, in particular woodcuts. Three etched portraits of Alfred Döblin, Mathias Lützenkirchen and R. C. Jenny date from this year.
In his next Prague period he made, among other portraits, several drawings of the young R. M. Rilke (1896), caricatures of friends from the “Association of German Artists in Bohemia” (1896–98), a portrait of O. E. Hartleben (1897) and Study of a Young Woman (1898). A genuine woodcut portrait is that of Otto Mentzel (1899), which reveals his most striking Art Nouveau stylisation to date.
In 1899 Orlik became a member of the Vienna Sezession and featured his work its magazine Ver Sacrum, which also published Rilke’s essay on his friend “A Prague Artist” (1899). This, the first, period of Orlik’s career culminated in his first major one-man show, in the spring of 1900, in the Moravian Museum of Decorative Arts, Brno (310 works on display) and, subsequently, a year-long journey to Japan.
PRAGUE AND VIENNA (1900–1904)
was still living in Prague at this point, but was spending more and
more time in Vienna where he moved in October 1904. This was when he
made his most famous portrait woodcuts – portrait of playwriter Henrik
Ibsen (1902), two stylised Art Nouveau woodcuts of his friends Josef
Hoffmann (1903) and Bernhard Pankok (1903 / 04), and probably the greatest
of his Art Nouveau woodcuts, the portrait of painter Ferdinand Hodler
(1904). Other outstanding portraits include those of Max von Gomperz
(1906) and French impressionist Camille Pissarro (1906).
These works are now considered to be some of the most successful Art Nouveau print portraits of all time. Orlik usually worked with engraving or dry point techniques, which he combined with roulette and aquatint in order to make use of the whole range of possible effects and to add to the uniqueness of each print.
Most of Orlik's portraits were drawn at the theatre, a milieu that enabled him to study and draw the physiognomy and expressions of the actors. Immediately after arriving in Berlin he continued his close colaboration with the theatre director Max Reinhardt (1873–1943). Orlik worked on a series of set and costume designs for productions at Reinhardt’s “German Theatre” where he had ocassion to sketch playwriters Gerhardt Hauptmann, Maxmilian Harden, Luigi Pirandello, Frank Wedekind and Oskar Kokoschka, and often drew sketches of the outstanding actors in Reinhardt’s group – Paul Wegener, Werner Krauss, Max Pallenberg, Emil Jannings, Ernst Deutsch, Alexander Moissi, Tilla Durieux, Lil Dagover and the Danish star of the German silent film era, Asta Nielsen. Most of Orlik’s other portrait albums and separate reportage-based sketches are mostly connected with the milieu of the theatre.
Orlik’s interest in music is reflected in his portraits of Anton Bruckner (1915), Richard Strauss (1917), Eugen d'Albert (1916) and Arnold Schönberg (1926). He paid great attention to conductors – particularly the Prague conductor Alexander Zemlinsky (1920) and the Dutch conductor Willem Mengelberg (1925). Orlik was also interested in portraying concert virtuosos, such as the pianist Wanda Landowska (1917) and the violinist Bronislav Hubermann (1919).
Thanks to a donation from Anita and Marcel Bollag of New Jersey, we can now compare these two very different series of portraits and explore the whole range of expressive possibilities to be found in Orlik’s drawings. The album of lithographic caricatures, “Brest-Litovsk”, is a good example of Orlik’s increasingly free style of drawing, and prefigures his albums of lithographic portraits of the 1920s.
The official painting of the peace conference was never made, however; the peace treaty was annulled half a year later and was declared invalid by the allied powers following the capitulation of Germany.
The Jewish Museum in Prague would like to thank Anita and Marcel Bollag of North Caldwell, New Jersey, for their generous donation of 69 Emil Orlik drawings. These works have significantly expanded the Museum’s collection of Orlik drawings, as is evident from this exhibition.
In terms of his natural talent and training, Emil Orlik was a realist for whom tradition and craft always had more importance than art theories and programmes. He had a precise visual memory and an ability, on the spot, to capture the expressive qualities of his subjects. His most effective drawings, however, are those that reflected his spontaneous temperament and sheer joy of making artworks. Throughout his life, he was an experimenter, applying his innovative approach to many areas of visual art. His “modernity” probably consists in his ability to experiment and tirelessly to seek out new possibilities of artistic expression. Many of his attempts were thwarted, but many others achieved new and original forms of expression, for which most of his works have retained their appeal to this day. This is why Orlik is increasingly sought after by collectors and lovers of art.
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