Emil Orlik • Riverbank in Paris
Oil on canvas
53 : 48 cm
Signed lower right: "orlik, 10"
1870 Prague - 1932 Berlin
Emil Orlik, who was born in Prague, ranks as one of the most multi-talented and cosmopolitan artists to have emerged in the German-speaking world at the turn of the twentieth century. He trained at the Munich Academy of Art, where his prodigious skills as a painter quickly earned him a studio of his own. While studying in Munich he also trained in printmaking techniques.
As a young man, his career enjoyed a meteoric rise. He had scarcely graduated from the Academy when he began publishing work in the Munich art journals Jugend and PAN, as well as Ver Sacrum, the magazine of the Vienna Secession. He contributed to notable exhibitions staged in the Munich Glaspalast and the Vienna Secession and was widely feted. Influential critics like Richard Muther and Rainer Maria Rilke published articles on his work. One-man exhibitions staged by leading German and Austrian gallerists followed – at the Kunstsalon Cassirer in Berlin, the Kunstsalon Emil Richter in Dresden and Salon Pisko in Vienna. After brief stays in Munich, Prague and Vienna he transferred his studio to Berlin in 1904. He took up a post as professor at the state teaching institute associated with the Berlin Kunstgewerbemuseum, succeeding Otto Eckmann as head of the graphics class. He settled permanently in the Prussian capital and worked there until his death in 1932, witness to the blossoming and heyday of the city’s cultural scene.
Orlik was an inveterate traveller. In 1898, his restless search for new forms of expression and fresh motifs took him to France, England, Scotland and the Netherlands. The remarkable contemporary success of his work is inextricably bound up with his travels. In 1901, he made his first visit to Japan to deepen his knowledge of woodcut techniques. The fruits of his Asian travels are a body of exquisite woodcuts which rank among the most original and unconventional European print series of the early 1900s. Between 1898 and 1913 he visited Paris seven times and his experience of the Parisian art world had a seminal influence on his artistic development. His excellent links to the German art community and Café du Dôme circle brought him introductions to the sculptor Auguste Rodin, the modernist writer and art collector Gertrude Stein, the art critic Julius Meier-Graefe and the art dealer and pioneering collector Wilhelm Uhde. In his own work Orlik drew inspiration from the paintings of Cézanne, Kees van Dongen and Henri Matisse. He was something of a collector himself, acquiring Far Eastern art and work by French modernists.
Throughout his career Orlik’s virtuoso craftsmanship, love of technical experimentation and rich visual vocabulary earned him the recognition of art critics, collectors and dealers alike. His graphic output was prolific. He made book illustrations, poster designs and stage sets. He was a gifted portraitist, producing a remarkable series of prints depicting many of the leading writers, composers and artists of the time – among them Gerhard Hauptmann, Gustav Mahler and Ferdinand Hodler. He captured their unique personal characteristics, employing a distinctive combination of psychological insight and graphic precision. As a painter, he also produced an important body of work – vigorous, unconventionally eclectic and marked by an evident preference for French modernism.
Emil Orlik: Self-Portrait, 1901