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Form as a spiritual experience

Josef Floch (1894–1977) Wien – Paris – New York


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.

EXHIBITION | 15.09 – 06.11. 2017 

Josef Floch
Renn­gas­se 4, 1010 Wien

Ope­ning hours
Tues­day – Fri­day bet­ween 11am – 5pm

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ist Kunstexpertin für Malerei des 19. und 20. Jhdts. Langjährige Autorin für die Kunstzeitschrift PARNASS, zahlreiche Katalogbeiträge; Autorin der Werkverzeichnisse zu Rudolf von Alt und Theodor von Hörmann; Kuratorin der Ausstellung über Theodor von Hörmann im Leopold Museum, Wien, 2016.

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