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Original scientific paper

The Earliest and Early Works of the Sculptor Rudolf Valdec

Enes Quien ; Academy of the Visual Arts, University of Zagreb, Croatia

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The article discusses the earliest, mostly lost works known only through archival photographs, and the early preserved works by Rudolf Valdec (8 March 1872, Krapina – 1 February 1929, Zagreb) who, apart from Robert
Frangeš-Mihanović, was Croatia’s first modern sculptor. These works were created upon Valdec’s return from studying at Vienna and Munich, in the period between 1896 to 1898, that is, prior to the exhibition Croatian
Salon where they were displayed. The findings about his earliest, previously unknown, works have been gathered through research in archives and old journal articles which mention them. At the same time, Valdec’s early works are not only well-known but famous, for example the relief Love, the Sister of Death (Ljubav sestra smrti, 1897), Magdalena (1898) and Memento Mori (1898). These reliefs and sculptures in the round demonstrate Valdec’s skill in sculptoral modelling and provide evidence that he was a sculptor of good technical knowledge and
craftsmanship. They also show the thoroughness of his education at Vienna’s K. K. Kunstgewerbeschule des Österreichischen Museums für Kunst und Industrie where he studied under Professor August Kühne, and at the Königliche Bayerische Akademie der bildenden Künste in Munich where he was supervised by Professor Syrius Eberle. It is difficult to follow Rudolf Valdec’s continuity as a sculptor because his student works have not been preserved and neither have some of the earliest works he
made when he returned to Zagreb. Only a small number of previously unknown or unpublished photographs have been found which show the works which have been irretrievably lost. These works of unknown
dimensions were not signed and are therefore considered as preparatory studies for more large-scale works from the earliest phase of his career. These are the reliefs of Apollo made for the pediments of the Pavilion of the Arts (Umjetnički paviljon) at Zagreb which was designed by Floris Korb and Kálmán Giergl, the Hungarian historicist architects, to house the Croatian displays at the Millenial Exhibition at Budapest in 1896. A year later, in 1897, the iron frame of the pavilion was transported to Zagreb.
The bid to carry out the work was won by the Viennese architects Herman Helmer and Ferdinand Fellner, but the actual construction was done by the Zagreb architects Leo Hönisberg and Julio Deutsch under the
supervision of the city’s engineer Milan Lenuci. Valdec was entrusted with the making of reliefs illustrating the hymn to Apollo (Apollo of Delphi, Apollo Pythoctonos, and Apollo Musagetes). These three bas-reliefs were
never affixed to the pediments of the Pavilion of the Arts because the City Council did not authorize the execution due to a lack of funds. However, they were displayed at the Millenial Exhibition at Budapest and the Croatian Salon in 1898, and contemporary critics praised them as successful works of the young Valdec. The first relief depicts the Apollo of Delphi (hymn to Apollo) holding a severed head in his raised left hand. The second relief depicts Apollo Musagetes next to a shoot of a laurel tree
(the symbol of Daphne) with a lyre in his left hand. The third relief shows Apollo Pythoctonos who, in a dynamic movement, is stringing his silver bow and shooting an arrow into the gaping mouth of a fire-breathing dragon.
In his youth, Valdec produced works which embodied fear, anxiety, pessimism, restlessness and bitterness, all corresponding to the general tendencies of the fin de siècle. In 1899 he made Pessimism (Pesimizam), a work only known through its mention in the press by the critic M. Nikolić. Many other youthful works from the period between 1885 to 1889 have also been lost. These were: Passion, Christ, and Love (Muka, Krist, and Ljubav, 1896-1896) which were displayed at the Millenial Exhibition
in Budapest, Altar of the Saviour (Spasiteljev žrtvenik), Lucifer, Per Aspera ad Astra, Kiss (Cjelov), Christ Salvator (Krist Salvator), Hymn to Apollo (Apolonova himna), Apollo Phoebus (Apolon Phoebus), Ridi Pagliaccio, and Jesus (Isus). Our research has yielded photographs of the
works Per Aspera ad Astra and Christ Salvator, both of 1898. All the work from his youthful phase is in the Art Nouveau style, in harmony with the dominant stylistic trends in Vienna, Munich and central Europe, which,
unsurprisingly, attracted Valdec too. In his desire to express his feelings and spiritual condition, as can be seen in the works like Per Aspera ad Astra, Valdec reveals the stamp of the Art Nouveau symbolism.
Although Valdec’s earliest and a number of his early works have mostly been lost, those that have been preserved are made of plaster and bronze (now at the Collection of Plaster Casts of the Croatian Academy of
Arts and Sciences in Zagreb), and belong to the most significant works of Croatian modern sculpture. The works in question are the relief sculptures Love, the Sister of Death (1897), Memento Mori (1898) and Magdalena
(1898). The relief Love, the Sister of Death represents the first example of symbolism and stylization which were a novelty in modern sculpture in Croatia. The relief of Magdalena is, regardless of the fierce criticism on account of its nudity published by the priest S. Korenić in Glas koncila, a master-piece not only because it represents an excellent nude but also because of the psychological and philosophical expression it radiates. It is one of the best reliefs in Croatian sculpture in general. The relief Memento Mori features the first and only example of Valdec’s self-portrait rendered in profile, in which he depicted himself as a fool. The busts of Plato (Platon) and Aristotle (Aristotel) are considered to be first portraits
commissioned by Iso Kršnjavi. They were made in 1898 and set up on the wings of the building which housed the seat of the Department of Theology and Teaching in 10 Opatička Street, at the head of which was Kršnjavi. Valdec made the busts of these two Greek philosophers in the style of Roman naturalistic portraits.


Art Nouveau sculpture, Rudolf Valdec, earliest works, Apollo, K. K. Kunstgewerbeschule des Österreichischen Museums für Kunst und Industrie, Königliche Bayerische Akademie der bildenden Künste, Iso Kršnjavi, clay, gypsum, bronze

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