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Emil Orlik (1870-1932), Portrait of Gustav Mahler (1860-1911), Vienna, 1902

drypoint and aquatint / paper, 294 x 196 mm
signed and dated LR in pencil: Emil Orlik 1902
access no. JMP 27.210

?–1941 in the collection of Leo Schwarzkopf of Prague
1941–1942/1944 Treuhandstelle Prague
Between August 1942 a August 1944 catalogued by Dr. Josef Polák into the collection of the Central Jewish Museum in Prague

On May 18 this year we commemorate the 100th anniversary of composer and conductor Gustav Mahler’s death. Last year we commemorated the composer for a different occasion – the 150th anniversary of his birth – by presenting in our Object of the Month series an unique photograph of the Mahler house in Jihlava taken in the 1930s for the collection of the Central Jewish Museum of Moravia and Silesia in Mikulov (http://www.jewishmuseum.cz/en/apredmet.php?datum=07&rok=10). This year we remember the composer with a portrait done by Prague native Emil Orlik (1870–1932). Orlik was a sought-after portraitist in his day, and he captured in his work – paintings, but mostly graphic art and drawings – a great many contemporary personalities. In addition to writers, politicians, military dignitaries, scientists, painters, sculptors, architects and the leading lights of film and stage, Orlik also made portraits of a number of musicians, among whom, besides Mahler, were the composer and conductor Alexander von Zemlinsky, violinist Bronislav Hubermann, pianist Wanda Landowska, conductor Willem Mengelberg, and composers Richard Strauss and Anton Bruckner, Mahler’s teacher.

If composer, conductor, and important art collector Josef Stransky’s account in his memoirs is to be believed, he was the one who introduced Orlik to Mahler (Stransky, 1872–1936, was Mahler’s compatriot, having been born in Humpolec, and succeeded him as director of the New York Philharmonic upon his death). According to Stransky, it was during a chance meeting with Orlik in a Prague café that he offered to introduce him to Mahler. He later recounted the entire meeting, during which Orlik apparently made his first sketch of Mahler, who then invited him to Vienna, where he produced the official portrait you see here. Stransky writes: “Der Meister willigte ein und während der lebhaften Unterhaltung skizzierte Orlik den Charakterkopf Mahlers auf einer Postakrte. Mahler war entzückt und sandte die Karte sofort seiner Schwester, lud Orlik ein nach Wien zu kommen, und so wurde an jenem Abende tatsächlich der Anstoß gegeben zu jener später entstandenen, allgemein bewunderten Radierung Orliks. ” [“The Master agreed to be introduced to Orlik and during the lively conversation Orlik sketched a drawing of Mahler’s head on a postcard. Mahler was delighted and sent the card to his sister right away and invited Orlik to visit him in Vienna. So that evening was the inception of Orlik’s widely admired etching.”] There is, however, a fundamental problem with Stransky’s quasi-authentic memoir: he places the portentous meeting between the two in 1904, yet Orlik was already in Berlin by then, and had already produced his series of lissome portrait sketches on postcard bearing the inscription “Vienna 1903” as well as the “widely admired etching,” several prints of which bore an inscription of the year 1902.

A more probable, albeit less anecdotal, explanation of how Mahler and Orlik became acquainted would presume that they could not help but cross paths among the artists clustered around the Vienna Secession, a member of which was Mahler’s father-in-law, the painter Carl Moll, and Orlik became in 1899.

Orlik and Mahler also met at the gala thrown by the Vienna Secession on April 14, 1902 for their large exhibition dedicated to Beethoven. For the occasion, Mahler conducted part of the 9th Symphony, arranged for six trombones, and attended the evening’s banquet given in honor of the sculptor Max Klinger. Having just recently returned from his first trip to the Far East, during which he was one of the first western artists to visit Japan, Orlik was said to have proposed here a comical toast in faux Japanese.

The fact that the relationship between Orlik and Mahler was less than warm, as Stransky describes it, or aloof as Mahler himself confided (and not for the first time) in a letter to his wife, Alma, is fairly evident. Mahler writes in the letter: “Gestern abend kam ich ganz allein in den Blauen Stern und traf den unvermeindlichen Orlik, (dem ich überall begegne, wo ich hinkomme). Ich saß natürlich bei ihm und ließ ihn auspacken. Was er über Japan und China zu sagen hatte, ‚räumte ich ihm abi‘. Er ist aber ein confuser Kerl und scheint das Ganze nicht aus eigener Anschauung, sondern aus irgendwelchen Berichten zu haben. ... Da packte Orlik von seiner heurigen Reise in die Provence aus und was er da künstlerisch gelernt hätte. – Er male seither ganz anders – die Landschaft und die Sonne wären dort seine Lehrmeister gewesen und es wäre so erhebend, wieder einmal im ‚künstlerischem Neuland‘ zu wandeln. – Ich vermuthe, daß er dort einige Photographien gemacht hat und einige Bilder von Cézanne und Van Gogh abgepaust. – Im Übrigen hatte ich doch den Eindruck eines gemüthigen und braven (im bürgerlichen Sinne) Menschen.” [“Yesterday evening I went alone into the ‘Blue Star’ and I met the unavoidable Orlik (whom I always meet, wherever I go). Naturally I sat beside him and let him speak his mind. What he had to say about Japan and China ‘I acknowledged.’ He is however a confused fellow and described the whole thing not from his own perspective, but rather from some reports he got somewhere. ... Then he talked about his trip to Provence and what he had learned artistically there. He painted very differently since then – landscapes and the sun became his teachers, and it was so uplifting to wander in new artistic territory. I suspect that he took photographs there and traced pictures of Cezanne and Van Gogh. Besides that, I have the impression of him as a good-natured and honest (in the bourgeois sense) man.”]


The print of Mahler’s portrait was confiscated at the end of 1941 from the property of Leo Schwarzkopf of Prague through the offices of the Treuhandstelle (literally “administration of a faithful hand”). This organization was ostensibly a special department of the Prague Jewish Religious Community, whose entire operations were under the strict supervision of the Central Office for Jewish Emigration (Zentralstelle für jüdische Auswanderung), which in 1942 was renamed the Central Office for the Regulation of the Jewish Question (Zentralamt für Regelung der Judenfrage) and tasked with liquidating the furnishings of apartments after their occupents had been deported from Prague and the surrounding area (the “Oberlandrat Prag”). Leo Schwarzkopf, born November 9, 1895, was deported from his last place of residence first to the Terezín Ghetto (transport J, Prague to Terezín, December 4, 1944) and from there on transport Em of October 1, 1944 to Auschwitz. When the camp was evacuated, he was transported to Dachau, where he died on March 15, 1945.


Bibliograpfie / Bibliography:

Singer, Hans. W. (ed.), Meister der Zeichnung: Emil Orlik, Leipzig: A. Schumann’s Verlag, vol. VII, pl. 23.

Henry-Louis de La Grange, Gustav Mahler: Vienna: The Years of Challenge
vol. II, New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Bichler, Susanna: „Hic et ubique: Emil Orlik als Gesellschaftspotraitist. Begegnungen, Wandlungen und Beurteilungen,“ in Emil Orlik: Leben und Werk 1870-1932. Prag – Wien – Berlin, eds. Eugen Otto, Brigitte Ahrens et al., Wien / München: Verlag Christian Brandstätter, 1997, pp. 43-57.

Hoeper, Jan: Mahler and Art. Emil Orlik and Gustav Mahler: A Meeting of Minds, http://www.mahlerarchives.net/archives/orlik.pdf (accessed April 27, 2011)

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