Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Nudes of Drtikol

 František Drtikol, The Soul, 1930

František Drtikol (1883-1961) was born in the mining town of Příbram, Bohemia. His father was the owner of a grocery store. He spent his childhood in his hometown and showed an early attraction for drawing and painting. František spent more time drawing and reading novels than working for the school. In 1898, Drtikol, a mediocre student, left school. He wanted to start a career as a painter but his father demanded an apprenticeship with Antonin Mattas, the local photographer, saying that painting does not provide sufficient security. During his three years as an apprentice and assistant to his master, Drtikol gained a solid base of professional practice.

 František Drtikol, Dancers, 1930

In 1901, Drtikol moved to Munich where he enrolled at the Lehr- und für Versuchanstalt für Photographie, opened a year earlier. Taking courses in physics, chemistry, optics and design, he distinguished himself quickly and was regarded the best student in his class. After his studies, in 1903 and 1904, Drtikol worked as an assistant in various photographic studios in Karlsruhe, Chur, and Prague. From 1904 to 1907, Drtikol completed his military service in the Austro-Hungarian Army. In 1907, with financial support from his parents, he opened his photographic studio in Pribram. He produced portraits, landscapes, nudes, and made a report (using a magnesium flash) on  a coal mine. 

 František Drtikol, The Nudes of Drtikol, 1929

In 1910, Drtikol moved to Prague where he opened a studio with a partner, Augustine Skarda, who was primarily responsible for financial matters. He soon became the most prominent portraitist of the city, and his studio was visited by the personalities of the capital and illustrious visitors like the French writer Paul Valéry and the Indian poet and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore. He shot portraits of some of the most important figures of his day: Czechoslovakia's first president Masaryk, his foreign minister Edvard Benes, and the composer Leos Janacek.

 František Drtikol, The Soul, 1931

Drtikol escaped the massacre of the First World War because he was assigned to back regiments, first in the vicinity of Prague, then in Hartberg, near Graz in Austria. After the war he resumed his activity in a studio on the fourth floor of one of Prague's remarkable buildings, a Baroque corner house at 9 Vodičkova, now demolished. Drtikol's early works, mainly landscapes, were influenced by Pictorialism, namely by Leonard Misonne and Robert Demachy. In the early 1920s, he abandoned painted decorations for the benefit of wooden ones consisting of simple geometrical patterns, cubes, cylinders, rectangular plates, or rounded forms, as in The Wave (below), one of his most famous images. The influence of Cubism, and Constructivism is evident in this part of his work.

  František Drtikol, The Wave, 1925 

Drtikol continued to produce symbolistic images, including many variations on the theme of Salome. His marriage with dancer Ervina Kupferova in 1920 increased his interest in dance and motion. Like Rudolf Koppitz, Drtikol often placed his models in settings emphasizing the tension of the body fixed between two phases of movement. Later, Drtikol began using paper cut-outs in a period he called "photopurism". These photographs resembled silhouettes of the human form. 

 František Drtikol, Dancers (Paper Cut-Out), 1932

In the 1920s and 1930s, Drtikol received significant awards at international photo salons. He sold his studio in 1935 and slowly drifted into obscurity. He now focused mainly on painting, Buddhism and philosophy. In 1945, Drtikol taught photography at The State School of Graphic Arts in Prague, but resigned after one year. František Drtikol died in Prague on January 13, 1961. He is buried in the cemetery of Příbram, his hometown. You can see more of his work in my Flickr set.

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