EMIL ORLIK (1870–1932) - Portraits of Friends and Contemporaries


From 04. 02. 2004 to 11. 04. 2004

Robert Guttmann Gallery
U Staré školy 3, Prague 1, Czech Republic
4 February 2004 – 11 April 2004
Open daily 10 a.m. – 4.30 p.m., except Saturdays and Jewish holidays

Of the various areas of Orlik's work the most extensive is that of portraiture, in which he attained most acclaim during his life. This body of work includes dozens of woodcuts, a large number of paintings and, in particular, hundreds of prints and thousands of drawings and sketches. These are housed in many public and private collections and, to date, have never been published. His portraits are inseparably linked to the period and social milieu in which they were made: each one is connected with a particular detail from one of Orlik's letters or from the life of the subject.


Emil Orlik was born in Prague in 1870 in the Old Stamp Office in Dlouhá Street, between the Old and Jewish towns. This building housed the tailor’s workshop of Orlik's father, Moritz, and was situated near his brother Hugo's famous gentlemen’s salon. The surrounding alleyways of the ghetto provided the backdrop to Orlik’s childhood and youth and inspired subject-matter for his first prints.
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.


Orlik’s journey to Japan attracted considerable attention. After his return, he gave talks and wrote about his experiences in Ver Sacrum, became fully involved in the activities of the Vienna Sezession, alongside such artists as Gustav Klimt and Josef Hoffmann, and exhibited in the Paul Cassirer Gallery in Berlin and in the Rudolfinum Gallery in Prague. Portraiture now began to predominate in his work and portraits became the main focus of his exhibitions.
Orlik 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).
Techniques such as engraving and dry point played an even more important role in Orlik’s portraiture at the beginning of the 20th century. His most famous print portraits were made in a short period of time: Gustav Mahler (1902), Max Klinger (1902 / 03), Count von Kalkreuth (1903), natural scientist Ernest Haeckel (1901 / 04), Friedrich Hodler (1904) and writer Hermann Bahr (1904).
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.

BERLIN (1905–1932)

In 1905 Emil Orlik was called upon to succeed Otto Eckmann at the “School for Graphic and Book Art” of the Museum of Decorative Arts in Berlin, which provided a wealth of scope for his tireless creativity. Above all, Orlik continued to draw, sketching his friends and acquaintances from the world of art and theatre. At meetings of the Berlin Sezession he portrayed, among others, M. Liebermann, L. Corinth, K. Walser, E. Barlach and H. Zilly. At the Café Romanesque, he drew numerous portraits of such figures as M. Slevogt, B. Cassirer, H. Bahr, O. Mueller, R. Grossmann, E. R. Weiss, O. Dix, M. Oppenheimer and A. Flechtheim. At the avant-garde Café des Westens he made, among other things, a pen-and-ink drawing of art theorist Herwarth Walden and at the Berlin Academy he made sketches of Käthe Kollwitz and the expressionist set designer Hanz Poelzig. His sketchbook also included portraits of the poet Franz Werfel, dramatists Arthur Schnitzler and Luigi Pirandello, writers Thomas Mann, Alfred Döblin and Maxim Gorky. In 1917 he did a portrait of Albert Einstein and later made his portrait print (1923) and depicted him playing the violin (1924).
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 his reputation as an accomplished artist and portraitist, Orlik was invited by State Secretary Richard von Kühlmann to the peace conference in Brest-Litovsk, where he drew portraits of the representatives of the individual delegations of the Central Powers – Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey, as well as officials from Ukraine and Soviet Russia. He made accurate, if somewhat idealized portraits of all the participants and a series of smaller, caricature-like lithographs, which were published in the album „Brest-Litowsk“ (1918) as a gift for the conference partipants.
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.

Curator: Arno Pařík
Installation: Firma Pavel Břach
Translation: Stephen Hattersley
Graphic design: Vladimír Vašek
Printed by Label Kutná Hora
Published by the Jewish Museum in Prague
U Staré školy 1, 110 00 Praha 1, Czech Republic
Phone: 221 711 511, fax: 222 749 300

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