Carl Otto Czeschka
- Carl Otto Czeschka
- An Important Suite Original Illustrations for Die Nibelungen dem deutschen Volke
- all but one drawing signed with artist's monogram and dated 1907 and 1908 in black ink, 2 drawings with light pencil sketches of helmet and geometric patterns in lower margins, a few drawings with ink or gilt markings in the margins, in 8 double mats with drawings paired to replicate double-page spreads in the published book
chemise stamped in gilt WIENER WERKSTÄTTE and with artist and makers gilt monograms
- pen-and-ink and gouache on paper highlighted extensively with gold; box executed in blue morocco trimmed in brown calf and ornamented with semé border of small gold circles, with blue moiré silk chemise
- portfolio executed by Bookbinders Carl Beitel and Ludwig Willner and Leatherworker Paul Ruckendorfer
Collection, Zagreb prior to 1933
Possibly with David Kierschenbaum, Carnegie Book Shop, New York
Peter H. Brandt, New York
Thence by descent to the present owner
Berta Zuckerland, “Kunst und Kultur, Die Nibelungen,” Wiener Allgmeinen Zeitung no. 9258, February 6, 1909 (for a mention of the portfolio in the collection of Noble Family, Vienna)
Wilhelm Michel, "Rezeptive Begabung," Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration, October 1909, pp. 79-83
Gerlach & Wiedling publisher, Letter to Professor Carl Otto Czeschka, May 12, 1933 (for the mention of the portfolio, previously in a Zagreb Collection)
Ulrich Schulte-Wulwer, Das Nibelungenlied in der deutschen Kunst des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts, Wetzlar, 1980, pp. 160-167
Jean-Paul Bouillon, Art Deco 1903-1940, Geneva, 1989, p. 42
Christian Brandstätter, Design der Wiener Werkstätte 1903-1932, Vienna, 2003, p. 48
Der Preis Der Schönheit: 100 Jahre Wiener Werkstätte, exhibition catalogue, MAK, Vienna, 2003, p. 164
Kevin M. Tucker, The Wittgenstein Vitrine: Modern Opulence in Vienna, Dallas, 2015, p. 29
Book design was an important part of the modernist craft community in turn of the century Vienna. Leporello-bound art books with fine graphic illustrations were published in limited editions and shared within artist circles, and children’s books was another popular genre for which important artists created high-quality illustrations. In 1901 publisher Martin Gerlach started Gerlachs Jugendbücherei—a young adult book series that answered to the modern principles of art education. Accordingly, they set out to present their young readership with relevant and enticing content and visuals meant to inspire, educate, and delight.1 The most skilled artists were commissioned to contribute to the series.
After the first volumes of Gerlachs Jugendbücherei were published in February 1902, original drawings of the illustrations were presented alongside paintings by acclaimed artists like Gustav Klimt at the thirteenth Secessionist exhibition in Vienna, XIII Kunstausstellung der Vereinigung Bildender Künstler Österreich.2 Even within this fine art context, these small format graphic drawings were regarded as important works of art.
For volume 22, Carl Otto Czeschka (1878-1960) created the artistic highlight of the series: a group of illustrations for Die Nibelungen dem deutschen Volke (The Nibelungs). His eight magnificent two-sided drawings convey Franz Keim’s abridged version of the heroic medieval epic. Czeschka’s illustrations, however, transcend the limitations of Keim’s text: augmented by bold geometric borders and modernized blackletter type by Otto Eckmann, they are incredibly visually commanding despite their small scale. The book cover, endpapers, initials, vignettes and the binding were also designed by Czeschka, culminating in a highly sophisticated total work that was vibrant, lavish and dynamic yet concise. It is a quintessential representation of the most celebrated tenants of art and design of the period.
During this same time, Czeschka was also engaged with the decoration and the costume designs for Friedrich Hebbels’ tragedy “The Nibelungs”, which he presented at the legendary Viennese Kunstschau 1908. The impact Czeschka made with his Nibelungs drawings was so profound that they were a source of inspiration for Fritz Lang for his 1924 film adaptation of the epic.
When they were released, Czeschka’s illustrations were received with much excitement and positive response from the community. The Wiener Werstätte offered framed examples of the illustrations for sale and ordered a large number of books for the Christmas trade in 1908. For the grand dame of Viennese art criticsm, Berta Zuckerkandl, Czeschka’s illustrations were a “mighty, blooming epoch in surface decoration” and the “purest crystallization of the Wiener Schule.”3 She jubilated: “Equally precious, deep-colored and comparable only to kingly jewellery and glimmering incunabula in proud possession of the Habsburgs are the book decorations which C. O. Czeschka created for The Nibelungs.”4
The originals were sold soon after the publication of the book, which was reported by Zuckerkandl in February 1909: “The originals created for the book reproduction are laying in front of us. They have passed in the ownership of a noble, art-minded Viennese house, and just now the Wiener Werkstätte is working on an adorned portfolio that dignifies their beauty.” This partially gilded leather cassette was executed after the first design by Carl Otto Czeschka from 1906 and was carried out by the bookbinders Carl Beitel and Ludwig Willner as well as the leather worker Paul Ruckendorfer in the Wiener Werkstätte.
In their entirety, Czeschka’s illustrations for The Nibelungs are counted among the most important pieces that have ever been published in the field of book illustration in early 20th Century Vienna.
—Gerd Pichler, Art historian specializing in early 20th Century Viennese Art, author of the Koloman Moser catalogue raisonnée of paintings
1 Quoted from Friedrich C. Heller, Die bunte Welt. Handbuch zum künstlerisch illustriertem Kinderbuch in Wien,1890-1938, Vienna, 2008, p. 31
2 Katalog der XIII. Kunstausstellung der Vereinigung bildender Künstler Österreichs Secession, Vienna, 1902, nos. 78-84
3 Berta Zuckerkandl, “Die Nibelungen,” Wiener Allgemeine Zeitung, February 6, 1909, no. 9258, pp. 2-3