Sunday, August 29, 2010

Wenzel Hablik - Crystal Cities in the Air

A long time ago, I saw a big rock-crystal blasted out of the innermost St. Gotthard masiv - a very solitary and exclusive dream of nature. (Ernst Jünger, The Adventureous Heart)

 Wenzel Hablik and Elisabeth Lindemann-Hablik, c. 1930

Wenzel Hablik (1881-1934) was born in the Bohemian town of Brüx, Austria-Hungary (now Most in the Czech Republic). In later life he recalled that at the age of six, he found a specimen of crystal, and saw in it "magical castles and mountains" that would later appear in his art. Only eight years old, and parallel to his school education, Wenzel began a carpenter apprenticeship in his father's shop which he finished four years later as a master cabinetmaker.

Wenzel Hablik, Tropical Landscape, 1909

In the following years, Hablik worked as a porcelain painter, and as a draftsman in the office of an architect. Between 1902 and 1905, he studied painting and heraldry at the Vienna Kunstgewerbeschule, followed by three years of studies at the Prague Academy of Arts. His solo ascent of Mont Blanc, Europe's highest mountain, in 1906 was another formative experience, and quite an accomplishment at that time:

Wenzel Hablik, Untitled, 1906

During a trip to the German island of Helgoland, Hablik met the wealthy timber merchant Richard Biel who was to become his fatherly friend and patron. In 1907, Hablik permanently settled in Itzehoe, Biel's hometown near Hamburg, where he pursued architectural and interior design projects, producing designs for furniture, textiles, tapestries, jewellery, cutlery, and wallpapers. From 1908, Hablik designed complete interior decorations for his patron Biel and other wealthy families in northern Germany. Shortly after his arrival in Itzehoe, Hablik met the weaver and fabric designer Lisbeth Lindemann (1879–1960). They shared a workshop and studio in Itezhoe, and married in 1917.

 Wenzel Hablik, Planets, 1913

Hablik's first paintings, created in Prague between 1905 and 1907, show symbolistic influences, and were inspired by Hablik's admiration for the work of Edvard Munch. Hablik's view on nature was formed by his reading of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche which, around 1906,  laid the foundation of his utopian crystal-world. In 1909, Hablik published his Creative Forces (Schaffende Kräfte), a portfolio of twenty etchings portraying a voyage through an imaginary universe of crystalline structures that represents the most significant accomplishment of his career. Hablik also published other portfolios of his etchings, The Sea (1918) and Architectural Cycle - Utopia (1925). Some of Hablik's designs, particularly of lamps and small sculptures, also expressed the utopian crystalline forms of his etchings.

Wenzel Hablik, Untitled, Creative Forces Series, 1909

During and after a voyage to Constantinople in 1910, Hablik created a vast portfolio of oriental drawings and paintings, including portraits, landscapes and architectural scenes. Between 1909 and 1913, Hablik created wall-sized utopian visions of an outer space populated with phantastic planets and stars. These belong to the first cosmos paintings of the 20th century. In 1914 and 1917, Hablik produced two large sized paintings of crystal buildings standing in the sea:

Wenzel Hablik, Wonder of the Sea, 1917

In 1914, Hablik's textile designs for Lisbeth Lindemann were shown at the important Cologne exhibition of the Deutscher Werkbund, an association similar to the English Arts and Craft movement. Since 1912, Hablik was in close contact with the influential art expert Herwarth Walden, the founder of the Expressionist magazine Der Sturm (The Storm). Walden introduced him to Umberto Boccioni, one of the rising stars of Italian Futurism.

Wenzel Hablik, Crystal Castle in the Sea, 1914

In 1912, the Italian futurist Antonio Sant'Elia had proposed a giant airplane station for the center of Milan. His plan was a bold foreshadowing of what an airport might actually look like one day, but Sant'Elia would never see it realized. He joined the Italian army in 1915 and was killed during the Battles of the Isonzo, near Monfalcone. On the opposite side of the trenches, the architect Erich Mendelsohn, huddled in a bunker and, between mortar rounds, sketched a kind of dream city. Among his drawings were plans for a large-scale airport.

Wenzel Hablik, Crystal Cities on Moving Planets (Creative Forces Series), 1909

That same year, Hablik who, strangely enough, also served at the Isonzo front as a drafted war artist, proposed a utopian community that would hover in the sky. His drawings for a "flying settlement" (below a first sketch from 1908) depicted a cylindrical airship encircled by propellers. Within its core were workshops, baths and storerooms. The upper level contained residential spaces, the lower level a landing platform for small planes. This imagination was only topped by Bruno Taut who proposed a giant aerial theatre, a "cosmic-comical amusement in silver", that would be carried aloft by airplanes and rotated by propellers in the wind, while planes disguised at comets would zoom around it.

Wenzel Hablik, Structure of a Colony Floating in the Air, 1908

After the war, Hablik and Lisbeth Lindemann moved into a villa in Itzehoe which, through a complete redesign, became an artwork in itself (Gesamtkunstwerk). The villa was the couple's center of creativity with studios, metal work and gemstone cutting shops, as well as vast collections of minerals, snails, mussels and plants. The versatile Hablik also designed Notgeld (emergency money), which was issued by cities, boroughs, and even private companies when inflation in the Weimar Republic skyrocketed to a millions of percent  rate (my grandfather had to pay his workers twice a day, transporting the money bags in a truck).

 Wenzel Hablik, Notgeld (Emergency Money), Town of Itzehoe, Germany 1921

In 1919, Hablik, because of his expertise in utopian architecture, was invited by Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius to participate in the Exhibition of Unknown Architects which was organized by the revolutionary Arbeitsrat für Kunst (Art Soviet). The Arbeitsrat was a union of architects, painters, sculptors and art writers, who were based in Berlin from 1918 to 1921 and an important nucleus of the Bauhaus. It developed as a response to the Workers and Soldiers councils and was dedicated to the goal of bringing the current developments and tendencies in architecture and art to a broader population.

Wenzel Hablik, Utopian Buildings, 1922

The Arbeitsrat worked closely with the Novembergruppe and the Deutscher Werkbund. Wenzel Hablik, Hermann Finsterlin and some other architects represented in the Arbeitsrat, also united in the Glass Chain. The Glass Chain or Crystal Chain, initiated by Bruno Taut,  was a secret chain letter that was written between November 1919 and December 1920, and formed the basis of expressionist architecture in Germany. In 1920, Hablik participated in the exhibition Neues Bauen (New Architecture) together with  leading modern German architects like Hans Scharoun, Hans and Wassili Luckhardt, and Bruno and Max Taut.

Wenzel Hablik, Self-Supporting Cupola with five Mountain Peaks as Basis, 1925

From 1921, Hablik concentrated on household designs for textiles, furniture and silver cutlery, many of them showing his favourite crystal pattern. In 1925 and 1926, he undertook an extensive voyage visiting Bolivia, Chile, the West Indies and the Azores. This tour inspired Hablik to create paintings of tropical motifs, cactuses and flowers. In his designs, Hablik prefered since 1927 constructivist interiors, furniture and fabrics in succession to the Dutch De Stijl group. His textile designs and gobelins from the twenties and early thirties, woven by Elisabeth Hablik-Lindemann, are among the most modern and elegant of that period.

Dining room in the Hablik Villa, c. 1923

Hablik maintained a strong lifelong interest in crystals and geological forms generally. His visual art is notable for its highly imaginative and fanciful aspects; he created depictions of temples, flying cities, and crystal chasms. He produced some 600 artworks; about 250 oil paintings by Hablik are known at present. Hablik died at Itzehoe in 1934. A Wenzel Hablik Museum was established in the city in 1995. The museum contains much of his art, as well as his collections of crystals and minerals, seashells and snails.

 Contemporary Photo of Hablik's Studio

There is an excellent online article by Bärbel Manitz, Expressionistische Verklärung des Kristalls. (Expressionistic Transfiguration of the Crystal), placing Wenzel Hablik in the wider context of other "crystal" architects and painters. If you don't read German: The article contains some real picture gems of nearly completely forgotten artists. And if you like the idea of cities floating in the air: Have a look at the argentinian painter Xul Solar.


  1. If you read German and want to know more about Wenzel Hablik perhaps try my doctor thesis about this artist. You find the links for text and picture download here:

  2. I love crystal jewelry, including crystal pendants, fashion rings, crystal necklaces and so on. Collected a lot at home. Very happy to see them.