František Drtikol (3 March 1883, Příbram – 13 January 1961, Prague) was a Czech photographer of international renown. He is especially known for his characteristically epic photographs, often nudes and portraits. In 1901, aged 18 and after an apprenticeship, Drtikol enrolled in the Teaching and Research Institute of Photography in Munich, a city that was a major center of Symbolism and Art Nouveau and which was influential on his career. From 1907 to 1910 he had his own studio, until 1935 he operated an important portrait photo studio in Prague on the fourth floor of one of Prague's remarkable buildings, a Baroque corner house at 9 Vodičkova, now demolished. He was a contributor to the illustrated weekly Pestrý týden
. Jaroslav Rössler
, an important avant-garde photographer, was one of his pupils.
Drtikol made many portraits of very important people and nudes which show development from pictorialism and symbolism to modern composite pictures of the nude body with geometric decorations and thrown shadows, where it is possible to find a number of parallels with the avant-garde works of the period. These are reminiscent of Cubism
, and at the same time his nudes suggest the kind of movement that was characteristic of the futurism aesthetic.
He began using paper cut-outs in a period he called "photopurism"
. These photographs resembled silhouettes of the human form. Later he gave up photography and concentrated on painting. After the studio was sold Drtikol focused mainly on painting, Buddhist religious and philosophical systems. In the final stage of his photographic work Drtikol created compositions of little carved figures, with elongated shapes, symbolically expressing various themes from Buddhism. In the 1920s and 1930s, he received significant awards at international photo salons. Drtikol has published Le nus de Drtikol
(1929) and Žena ve světle (Woman in the Light)
Frantisek Drtikol was a founder of Czech modernist photography and a seminal figure in Czech photography before the Second World War. Now recognized as a modern master, Drtikol produced a monumental body of work--from early Pictorialist
and Art Nouveau
portraits and landscapes to the influential nude studies of the 20s and 30s--that has permanently established his place in the history of photography.
The son of a grocer in the Central Bohemian town of Príbram, Drtikol showed early promise in drawing and painting. Desiring to see his son enter a more practical profession, Drtikol's father arranged for an apprenticeship with a local photographer, Antonín Mattas. During the next three years, Drtikol learned the basics of copying, retouching, toning, and other photographic tasks, but could devote little time to his own photography.
In 1901, at the age of 18, Drtikol completed his apprenticeship and left home to attend the Teaching and Research Institute of Photography in Munich. The two-year course of study at the Institute set the course for Drtikol's entire career as an artist. Fin-de-siècle Munich was a thriving German art capital and one of the major European centers of Symbolism and Art Nouveau. Aspects of both movements preoccupied Drtikol throughout his life.
In 1907, after several years of travel and work for other photographers, Drtikol returned to Príbram to open his own photographic studio, which he moved to Prague in 1910. In those years, while making his living from custom portrait photography in the Art Nouveau style, he experimented with oil and gum printing and other Pictorialist techniques, producing lyrical landscapes and some of the earliest fine-art nudes produced in Bohemia. Eventually, the nude would become Drtikol's primary mode of photographic expression.
In the 1920s he developed the unique style for which he is best known, using Cubist and Art Deco sculptural motifs, elements of Expressionist dance, and ingenious geometric patterns of shadow and light to create dynamic nudes in which the body, no longer serving an illustrative or metaphorical purpose, became a purely aesthetic and erotic motif.
In 1935, Drtikol abandoned photography and devoted himself to painting and to the theosophical, Buddhist, and other philosophical studies that had informed much of his art.
Source: The National Gallery of Art