Josef Floch (1894-1977) Wien – Paris – New York
THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS VENERATED THEIR ELEGANT SHAPE, THE VIBRANT TENSION OF THEIR NARROW SNOUTS AS WELL AS THE MYSTERIOUS, DEEPLYROOTED AURA THEY RADIATED.
These dogs are known as ‘Pharaoh Hounds’, and they ‘loaned’ their whole face to the Egyptian God of the Underworld, Anubis. They also enthralled Austrian painter Josef Floch, who took a trip to Palestine and Egypt in 1923. In 1928, while residing in Paris, he published his recollections about these unique dogs in a series of paintings. He didn’t paint any portraits: his were more ‘mementos’ of long-gone cultures which stood out thanks to his own unique palette knife technique, reminiscent of frescoes. These works are all part of private collections, except one, and would never have seen the light of day at a gallery or museum.
Josef Floch’s paintings are unmistakeable because his extremely diverse development is constantly characterised by an attitude that embodies a peaceful and dreamy state of mind.
Until now. In autumn 2017, a retrospective of the painter will be held at the Schönborn-Batthyany Palace in Vienna. Five paintings of dogs, that were also previously seen in a another of his highlights, the early terrace painting from 1928, will be showcase during this ambitious event. The around 100 selected painting by Josef Floch will present an inspiring contrast between the imposing Baroque rooms and reveal the deep link they share with the history of painting, developing their very own peaceful, oneiric aura. This special perspective is the brainchild of the W&K -Wienerroither & Kohlbacher gallery which will also host the event. The gallery has been representing the painter, who emigrated to America in 1941, for years. Karl Pallauf is also on the team: he actually discovered the painter in the first place and redacted the master index of his work. We have to be grateful to his constant research that the autumnal retrospective will exhibit some new, unseen paintings.
One could even go as far as speaking of melancholy. Be it in his work painted with rich expressive colours from the early ‘20s and ‘30s in Paris, or in his terrace atelier and city paintings from the New York emigration. Floch always painted with a fine paintbrush, gifted with an incredibly subtle feel for colour and the utmost respect for form. Abstraction, for him, was soulless, while the form and shape of objects the measure by which the world, which had hit rock bottom, maintained its dignity.
Josef Floch was born in Vienna in 1894 and, strangely enough, he was never subject to the influence of the Jugenstil, the main movement back then. Right from the start, he shifted his attention to international trends, took trips to Italy, Germany and France at the beginning of his career, and moved to Paris in 1925. He was a lone wolf with an international heart with a successful career. In Paris, he frequented the illustrious circle of gallery owner Berthe Weill, mingling with Jacques Lipchitz and Chana Orloff, becoming good friends with Balthus; his works were exhibited at the Salon d’Automne and at the Salon des Tuileries countless times. Germain Bazin, an influential French art historian and Director of the Louvre, deemed Josef Floch even worthy of being mentioned in his opera magna on modern art, labelling him as one of the most important representatives of the new humanism movement. By doing so, he’d fully grasped Floch’s understanding of art. His French period represents an important focus of the exhibition at the Palais Schönborn – Batthyany and at the gallery itself on Strauchgasse 2 (near Cafe Central). In the extensive monography, whose main texts were written by French art historian Serge Lemoine and are available in German, English, and French, the countless references to Parisian avantgarde are mentioned for the first time.
It’s fairly obvious how locations and landscapes can become an inspiration and leave their mark on a painter and thus, it become alluring to follow the stages of an artist’s life and see through their eyes. Karl Pallauf and the gallery owners of Wienerroither & Kohlbacher started a film project that looks at the different stages of Josef Floch’s life, and shares the memories his daughter cherishes of her father, as well as the interviews of different collectors, including André Heller, expressing their appreciation for him. Time and art are alive and well.