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 Vaclav Vytlacil  (1892 - 1984)

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Lived/Active: New York/California      Known for: abstract expressionist still life, landscape and harbor painting

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Vaclav Vytlacil
from Auction House Records.
Still Life with Fish
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Vaclav Vytlacil (1892-1984)

He was born to Czechoslovakian parents in 1892 in New York City.  Living in Chicago as a youth, he took classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, returning to New York when he was 20.  From 1913 to 1916, he enjoyed a scholarship from the Art Students League, and worked with John C. Johansen (a portraitist whose expressive style resembled that of John Singer Sargent), and Anders Zorn.

He accepted a teaching position at the Minneapolis School of Art in 1916, remaining there until 1921.  This enabled him to travel to Europe to study Cézannes paintings and works of the Old Masters.  He traveled to Paris, Prague, Dresden, Berlin, and Munich seeking the works of Titian, Cranach, Rembrandt, Veronese, and Holbein, which gave him new perspective.  Vytlacil studied at the Royal Academy of Art in Munich, settling there in 1921.  Fellow students were Ernest Thurn and Worth Ryder, who introduced him to famous abstractionist Hans Hofmann.  He worked with Hofmann from about 1922 to 1926, as a student and teaching assistant.

During the summer of 1928, after returning to the United States, Vytlacil gave lectures at the University of California, Berkeley, on modern European art.  Soon thereafter, he became a member of the Art Students League faculty.  After one year, he returned to Europe and successfully persuaded Hofmann to teach at the League as well.  He spent about six years in Europe, studying the works of Matisse, Picasso, and Dufy.  In 1935, he returned to New York and became a co-founder of the American Abstract Artists group in 1936.  He later had teaching posts at Queens College in New York; the College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, California; Black Mountain College in North Carolina; and the Art Students League.

His paintings exhibit a clear inclination toward modernism. His still lives and interiors from the 1920s indicate an understanding of the art of Cézanne.  In the 1930s, his works displayed two very different kinds of art at the same time.  His cityscapes and landscapes combine Cubist-inspired spatial concerns with an expressionistic approach to line and color.  Vytlacil also used old wood, metal, cork, and string in constructions, influenced by his friend and former student, Rupert Turnbull.  He eventually ceased creating constructions as he considered them too limiting.  The spatial challenges of painting were still his preference.  During the 1940s and 1950s, his works indicated a sense of spontaneity not felt in his earlier work.

He married Elizabeth Foster in Florence, Italy, in 1927 and they lived and worked in Positano, Italy for extended periods of time.  Later on, they divided their time between homes in Sparkill, New York and Chilmark, Massachusetts,  where Vyt, as he was affectionately called, taught at the Martha's Vineyard Art Association beginning in 1941.  He was associated with the Old Sculpin Group and often exhibited his works in its galleries on the island.

He was honored with solo shows at The Carnegie Institute, Montclair Art Museum, Phillips Memorial Gallery, Krasner Gallery, University of Notre Dame, Rochester Art Gallery, and others.

Vytlacils works are included in collections at the Art Students League in New York City; the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center; the Dalton School in New York; the University of Notre Dame Art Gallery in South Bend, Indiana; the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York City.

Vaclav Vytlacil died in 1984, at age 92.

Sources include:
Several issues of the Vineyard Gazette, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in New York City on November 1, 1892, Vytlacil studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the  ASL in NYC followed by four years in Munich with Hans Hofmann.  He taught at UC Berkeley in 1928-29, CCAC in 1935-36, and held his first solo exhibition in Los Angeles in 1930.  He died in Sparkhill, NY on Jan. 5, 1984.

In:
Whitney Museum; Cleveland Museum; Detroit Museum; MM.
Source:
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Who's Who in American Art 1936-41; NY Times, 1-11-1984 (obituary).
Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

Biography from Jim's Of Lambertville:
Vaclav Vytlacil (Vas-lav Vit-la-chil) was born in New York City in 1892 to Czech parents, but was raised in Chicago. He was an artist since boyhood, becoming the youngest student to enroll in the Art Institute of Chicago in 1906. There he earned a scholarship to The Art Students League in New York in 1913. He studied at the League for three years under John C. Johansen and Anders Zorn. In 1916, Vytlacil accepted an invitation to teach at the Minneapolis School of Art where he remained for four years.

At the age of 29, and at the crossroads in his painting career, Vyt (a name affectionately given) decided it was time for “the European experience” It was believed by most artists at the time that Europe offered many more superior values in art, and with a strong desire to investigate the art of Cezanne, Vyt left the US for Europe in 1922. He headed to Paris where he befriended fellow painters and had his eyes opened to a whole new world of art. In Vyt’s words, “Many shattering experiences brought home to me that I knew practically nothing about painting. Or in other words, what I did know, did not amount to much!”

He next went to Munich where along with new found American artist friends, Worth Ryder and Ernest Thurn, Vyt studied under (relatively unknown teacher and artist at the time) Hans Hoffman. Now Modernism was the focus of Vyt’s art, quite a change from his previous more academic teachings. The traditions being exercised by Picasso, Braque, and Cezanne among other French Modernists were greatly influenced through Hofmann’s tutelage.

In 1927, Vyt married Elizabeth Foster of Minnesota at The Palazzo Vecchio in Florence and honeymooned in Venice. He taught at The Arts Students League (ASL) in the late 1920s while traveling back and forth to Europe. In 1930, the Vytlacils fell in love with Positano, Italy and rented a chalet there for several years.

During this time Vyt held various teaching positions in NYC and California as well as having a series of one man exhibitions in galleries and museums in the US and abroad. Also, Vyt was able to get the ASL to persuade Hans Hoffman to teach in New York in the 1930s which brought much acclaim to his growing reputation. In 1937, Vyt was instrumental as one of the founding members of The American Abstract Artists (AAA) in NYC. This was an organization largely responsible for bringing abstract art to the forefront in America.

In the late 1930s, Vyt was looking to relocate with more permanent roots following the birth of his first daughter Anne in 1936, and purchased a house in Sparkill, NY, which remained his residence for the rest of his life.

Around 1940 the Vytlacils purchased a home in Chilmark, Martha’s Vineyard, where they spent summers. Through the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, Vyt remained very active in both his teaching and painting careers. He was the subject of many museum exhibitions and one man gallery shows and his work was being acquired by many prestigious institutions for their permanent collections as well as by many important private collectors.

Vyt continued to travel and paint throughout Europe, Mexico, Jamaica, Monhegan, Martha’s Vineyard, California, Colorado and New York. In the 1950s, abstract expressionists like De Kooning and Pollock reverted to figural representations of women. Vaclav Vytlacil did as well, however his figures suggested more similarities to Picasso who also shared the more representational classical elements as opposed to pure abstraction.

Biography from The Caldwell Gallery - I:
Vaclav Vytlacil was born in New York City on November 1, 1892.  In 1906 he studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and in 1913, on a scholarship from Art Student League, he returned to New York City and studied under portrait painter John C. Johansen.

Vytlacil's first teaching position was at the Minneapolis School of Art from 1916 to 1921, when he traveled to Paris to study the art of Cezanne. While in Europe, Vytlacil visited relatives in Prague and decided to settle in Munich, where he enrolled in the Royal Academy of Art.  At the Academy Vytlacil met two other Americans, Ernst Thurn and Worth Ryder. When Thurn left the Academy to study with abstractionist Hans Hofmann, Vytlacil followed shortly thereafter, and in 1924 the two organized the Hofmann summer school on Capri.

On August 18, 1927, Vytlacil married Elizabeth Foster in Florence.  In 1928 they returned to the United States for one year, where Vytlacil lectured at the University of Berkeley and joined the Art Students League.  Vytlacil returned to the United States permanently in 1935 and accepted a teaching position at the Florence Cane School in Rockefeller Center, New York City.  The following year his only child, Anne Bozena, was born and Vytlacil helped found American Abstract Artists.

During his career, Vytlacil taught at the Art Students League, Queens College in New York, Black Mountain College in North Carolina, College of Arts and Crafts in California.  In 1946, he rejoined the Arts Student League until his retirement in 1978.  His first major Pompeiian painting was shown in 1951 at the Feigle Gallery in New York City and was later sold to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.  In 1975, the Montclair Art Museum in New Jersey held a retrospective exhibition.

Vaclav Vytlacil died in 1984 at the age of 92.


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