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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Ignat Bednarik

1917!, Ignat Bednarik.
To my way of thinking, given my growing, daily perspective on the arts, one of the most neglected groups of artists from the past are those I would term the "Iron Curtain Artists." I would hope everyone understands that reference to the turbulent Cold War era and the two tragic wars which led to it. Here I'm not so much thinking about Russian artist or even those from Poland, though these 20th-century artists from both countries historically and geographically fit this designation. They, however were such a strong group stylistically and numerically they have pretty much stood on their own. No, the ones I find to be underestimated, and frequently even ignored, are those artists from countries such as Bul-garia, Albania, Macedonia, East Germany, Hungary, Austria, Yugoslavia, and Czecho-slovakia (the latter two of which no longer exist). These are (or were) relatively small countries, often deeply enmeshed in poverty as well as the unrest of social and political repression, where there was little or no art market after WW II. They were countries from which artists found it difficult to even exit much less promote their art internationally, if indeed, in their isolation, they could have competed with their western counterparts of the free world. There were dozens of such artists, perhaps even hundreds, depending on your criteria in examining the quality of their work. Though not a perfect example, one such artist was the Romanian painter, Ignat Bednarik. If you've never heard of the man, then that simply goes to prove my point.
Fighting for the Flag, Ignat Bednarik
Though the painting at the top makes a powerful impression, my first thought was simply, I see the date, but what's the title? Then I noticed the exclamation mark after the 1917 and came to realize that the date was, in fact, actually a very well-chosen title. That year marked the "end of the world" in Europe, or at least, as we sometimes say today, "the end of the world as they knew it." Nothing on that continent, or in deed, our own, would ever be the same again. Though its poisonous political stew had been simmering for some years earlier, the naively-termed "war to end all wars" had begun. And despite what you've read in our American history books about the "Western Front," nowhere was the conflict more devastating than in Eastern Europe. Bednarik's painting, 1917! (top) and his Fighting for the Flag (above) reflect that horrific period--one figuratively, the other literally.

Bednarik's Self-portrait, 1919
I've sometimes referred to artists born in Europe around the turn of the century as having been born in the "wrong time and the wrong place." Bednarik was born in 1882; his parents were of Czech descent. He was the eldest of three children. As an artist, he was more fortunate than some. Though born in Orsova,(now southwestern Romania but in 1882, part of the Austro-Hungarian empire), the heart of Eastern Europe, he was a grown man, married, formally educated in the arts, and old enough (in his mid-thirties) to be well-established in his career when the war came. Bednarik's art training included the Bucharest School of Fine Arts and the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. In 1909, he married a fellow graduate of the Bucharest School and to-gether they left for Munich to study at the Royal School of Applied Art. At the time, the city was a dynamic international cultural cen-ter, awash with new styles and ideas, es-pecially those of the Jugendstil aesthetic (literally translated "new style," but commonly thought of as Art Nouveau).

The Enigma of Life, 1919, Ignat Bednarik. Though a post-war
painting, it seems more hopeful than his 1917! (top). It is
similar in many ways to his Symbolism works done earlier.
The year after they were married, the Bednariks made their art debut in Paris, at the Salon d'Automne held in the Grand Palais. They returned to Bucharest in the same year. There, 1913, Ignat Bednarik exhibited for the first time in Romania with Associaţia Artistică. Later he took part in official salons, opening his first one-man show in Bucharest in 1915. Bednarik's paintings from this period brought to Romania the influence of European Symbolism at the same time that Alexandru Macedonski's poetry was exploring similar themes.

At the Sewing Machine, (the artist's wife), Ignat Bednarik

To the Sacrificed Heroes,
1917, Ignat Bednarik
The violence of World War I brought an abrupt halt to Bednarik's idealistic colored symbol-ism. As a member of the War Team of Artists and Sculptors set up in Iaşi by Romania's Queen Marie, during the time when Bucharest was occupied by German forces, Bednarik employed all his graphic skill in vigorous depictions of conflict and hardships. To the Sacrificed Heroes (right), from 1917, is typical of Bednarik's work from the war years, though it would seem very little of it exists today. In the years that followed the war, Bednarik frequently used his wife and children as models in his work, as seen in his At the Sewing Machine (above). Whether family or friends, portraits and domestic interiors form the mainstay of Bednarik's work. His The Young Artist (below) from 1914, is one of my personal favorites. No, it's not his son.

The Young Artist, 1914, Ignat Bednarik
Young Man Reading, Ignat Bednarik
Although Bednarik was equally adept in several different art media, it was watercolors which most captivated him and for which he is best re-membered today. His Young Man Reading (left) displays the technical expertise and sensitivity which mark his watercolors. They make up a large percentage of the more than three-thousand images he left behind upon his death in 1963 at the age of eighty-one. He was completely blind for the final two years of his life. Today Bednarik's work can be found in several European museums, but mostly those of Romania. In one sense that's good; in another it's not. He should be known and shown in museums all around the world. Bednarik's daughter, Beatrice (below, left), is also a trained artist who promotes her father's work through a website which does, I guess, show the work of Ignat Bednarik around the world. Unfortunately, the site has not been updated in sixteen years.

Click below for more of Bednarik's work.

Don't worry, it's not in Romanian.

Self-portrait, Beatrice
Bednarik, 1951

Son of the Artist,
1921, Ignat Bednarik


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