13 February 2013

The Paradox That Is Emil Orlik

What strikes me about Emil Orlik's Japanese Garden is how like a Secessionist's dream it is, with not a cherry tree in sight.  Orlik’s prominent placement of a flowering bush and  seemingly random spray of blossoms at the forefront of the picture seem to have gravitated from a Klimt landscape.  Every element in this picture belongs to an elaborate but apparently simple curve: the trees, the path, and the all-important horizon bend to the artist's design.      If any single image can encapsulate Orlik's aesthetic this could be it.  Also, it shows how western artists rediscovered things like abstraction, the reality of the flat surface, and decoration as a value in itself, all of which had been suppressed in the drive to imitate reality - or at least how our eyes perceive it.

Steeped in Secessionism, Orlik had lived in Munich, Berlin, and Vienna  when he embarked on his momentous but modestly described Reise nach Japan (Trip To Japan).  From March, 1900 to November, 1901  the 30 year old Orlik studied with masters of the wood block, determined to   learn every aspect, just as he had studied copper engraving at the Academy in Munich.    He wrote enthusiastically about his Japanese experiences to his friend the poet Rainer Maria Rilke who turned his insights into articles for Ver Sacrum, the journal of the Viennese Secession group where Orlik had also worked.  Orlik's first prints had been published by Jugend magzine in Munich in 1897, after he had moved there fromp his native Prague.      

In his graphic works Orlik often employed  techniques  of shading and  intensely compacted lines,  straight out of his European academic training.    The Leafless Tree, a work that makes me think of Xavier Mellery's Last Leaves Of Autumn (1893) is one of the most fully harmonized of this type.  In it, Orlik married the expressive technique to an atmospheric Ukiyo-e theme.  He succeeds in capturing a sense of movement in a medium that often appears static.  I don't think it is better than Woman Carrying Wood in Winter, just different.

 His paintings, on the other hand and at their best, were made in a flat, decorative style that western artists were in the process of appropriating from the Japanese  prints at the turn of the century.  Still Life With Fruits and Flowers in a Vase exists on two flat planes: the table with its artfully scattered accoutrements and the decorative backdrop. As a painting it is enjoyable but more importantly, it shows why Orlik enjoyed the various forms of making prints so much.   His tongue-in-cheek image of himself sketching the rising sun in a poster for an exhibition at the E. Richter Gallery suggests what gave Orlik his deepest artistic satisfaction.

1. Emil Orlik - Japanese Garden, 1904, Villa Griesbach, Berlin.
2. Emil Orlik - The Japanese Painter Tomonobu, the Woodcutter, and the Printer, In Japan, triptych, 1903, Vervielfaltigende Kunst, Vienna.
3. Emil Orlik -Before the Temple, ca. 1901, Galerie Bessange, Berlin.
4. Emil Orlik - Woman Carrying Wood In Winter, 1903, courtesy Emil Orlik Prints.com
5. Emil Orlik - The Leafless Tree, reprinted from Etchings and Otehr Graphic Arts by George taylor Plowman, New York: 1914.

6. Emil Orlik - Still Life with Fruits and Flowers in a Vase,  1930, Kunsthaus, Lempert.
7. Emile Orlik -  poster for Kunst Salon E. Richter, Albertina Museum, Vienna.


Anonymous said...


how wonderful to hear from you again!!!

I had the pleasure of seeing these prints at a great exhibition in Regensburg two weeks ago, and you are right: the Japanese Garden is absolutely breathtaking! I didn't know the oil painting that you show in your posting; I feel too that it looks very much like a printermaker's painting. And there are ghosts that live in the branches of the Leaveless Tree!


Jane said...

Thanks, Anon. I wish I could have seen the exhibition. I think you are right about that tree. The darker branches look like trapped creatures, trying to communicate with the human figures on the ground.

Tania said...

I did'nt know the name of this painter, very interesting post and as usual, richly illustrated, thank you.

Jane said...

Tania, Orlik's graphic works are available online at Orlikprints.com. along with a biography and other notes. Orlik had so many talented contemporaries that it is easy to lose track of him. He was very respectful of his Japanese teachers and the people who allowed him to picture them.

Tania said...

Merci, Jane.

Japanese Garden Lantern said...

What strikes me about Emil Orlik's Japanese Garden is how like a Secessionist's dream it is, with not a cherry tree in sight. Orlik's prominent ... japanesegardenlantern.blogspot.com

Jane said...

And a belated "You are welcome, Tania." How could I have been so neglectful?

Jane said...

Hello, Japanese Garden Lantern. I had not thought of Orlik's work in quite that way but you're right. He used his own symbolism and brings the Japanese aethetic to bear on it. Thanks.