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Friedrich Feigl (1884-1965)
He was born on March 6, 1884 in Dušní Street at the border between the Old Town and the Jewish Quarter of Prague. His parents were Josef Feigl (1846–1905) and Julie (neé Busch) (1849–1929). He spent the whole of his childhood in his home town and often returned there until the Second World War. His educated father brought up his children in a cultured atmosphere – Friedrich became a painter, his younger brother Ernst (1887–1957) a poet, and his youngest brother Hugo (1889–1961) a gallery owner.
Friedrich Feigl attended the Prague Academy of Art in 1904–05 with Prof. Bukovanec and Roubalík, but was expelled in the spring of 1905 for protesting against the school’s traditional methods. He then studied at the academies in Antwerp and Paris, where he first saw originals by Cézanne, Van Gogh and Gauguin. In October 1906 Feigl went on an ‘art trip’ across Europe with Emil Filla and Antonín Procházka; on the way back, in February 1907, he saw Kubišta in Florence and persuaded him to put together an exhibition in Prague.
In Prague, the artists met at the Café Union, where the decision was made to hold a group exhibition with the title Osma. They sought to break with the dogma of the imitation of nature and were wrestling with the new problems of color and form. The exhibition was organized mainly by Feigl and Filla. Osma’s first show opened in April 1907 in rented premises at Králodvorská St. It included work by Bedrich Feigl, Max Horb, Willy Nowak, Emil Filla, Arnošt Procházka, Bohumil Kubišta, Otakar Kubín and Emil Pittermann. The largest number of paintings (18) was exhibited by Feigl, followed by Nowak (16) and Kubišta (13). The critics in Prague were outraged by the show, condemning it as amateurish and as a barbaric mass of dissonant blots; the only positive critique was from Max Brod. In June 1908, Feigl took part in Osma´s second exhibition, this time at Topic House, which once again met with a negative response from the local critucs.
In Karlovy Vary in 1910, Feigl met Margarete Hendel (1875–1966) from Hamburg. Shortly afterwards they married and a year later moved to Berlin, where Feigl took part in the exhibitions of the Neue Sezession in 1911 and 1912. His first one-man show was in 1912 at the Gallery of J. B. Neumann, who published an album of his first dry points and etchings. Feigl then focused on graphic art, illustrating books by Dostoevsky among others. Feigl was conscripted into the army during World War I and, in 1917, co-founded the Vienna-based group Bewegung (Movement), with which he exhibited in 1918–1922. In 1919 he made a series of portraits of Prague writers and poets for the book Deutsche Dichter aus Prag (German Poets from Prague). In 1921 he completed a group of 12 lithographs for Prager Ghetto; the first ever monograph (by Georg Marzynski) on Feigl appeared in the same year. In 1922, he took part in an exhibition of Graphic art by Jewish artists at Lucerna Palace in Prague, and made ten etchings for Balzac’s novel Gobseck. Feigl’s aquatint and dry point etchings on biblical themes belongs among his most accomplished prints.
Feigl’s work from the second half of the 1920s was somewhat less expressive. His landscape paintings from the south of France and Croatia, however, have an intense color. In 1926 he went to Egypt, Libya and India, from where he brought a number of colorful sketches. In 1927 he exhibited in Prague with the group Junge Kunst and in 1929 co-founded the Prager Sezession, with which he regularly exhibited. In February 1930 he took part in the unique Exhibition of 19th and 20th Century Jewish Artists, which was held in the Fénix Palace on Wenceslas Square and organised by his brother Hugo. The exhibition contained some 120 works by 48 Jewish artists from the major cities of Europe and Jerusalem. In 1931 he exhibited at the Expresionismus-Fauvismus-Primitivismus show in the Evropa Gallery on Národní trída.
In November 1932 Feigl held a one-man show at his brother Hugo’s Prague gallery v Jungmannova Street. Afterwards, in December 1932, he left for Palestine to work on illustrations for an anthology of Prague Jewish stories. The Jewish holy sites and their present-day life left a deep impression on him, helping to loosen up and animate his painting style. He returned to Prague from the Holy Land with a series of paintings, watercolors and sketches whose motifs were never to disappear entirely from his subsequent work. His return to the Jewish tradition was reflected in many paintings with biblical themes and in depictions of the Old-New Synagogue and the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague.
Feigl exhibited in New York in 1934 and at the Group of Fine Artists’ gallery in Brno in 1935. Previously known as a graphic artist, he came to focus on painting after returning from Palestine to Bohemia. His last Prague show was held in 1937 in his brother Hugo’s Prague gallery at Smetanovo nábreží, where he exhibited 34 paintings of Palestine and Prague motifs. His numerous illustrations for his anthology of Jewish stories were published under the title Die goldene Gasse (Golden Lane). In 1935–1938 Feigl drew illustrations for stories by various writers for the Sunday supplement of Prager Presse, which also published his reminiscences of the Osma period and his generation.
Feigl´s final Prague period saw a considerable loosening up of his painting style, often using thick layers of paint and vigorous brush strokes as if in strong tension, projecting the painting into external space. A dramatic effect holds sway not only over the depicted figures but over the entire natural scene and atmosphere, suggestive of some mystical event beyond the realm of reality.
Feigl was still in Prague at the time of the German invasion in March 1939. When, in April, he and his wife tried to get to England, they were arrested in Germany and interned in a concentration camp. They reached London only after the intervention of the Artist’s Refugee Committee and the British Consulate.
From the outset Feigl was involved in the artistic life of London-based exiles. He had exhibitions at the Wertheim Gallery in London (1940), the Leicester Museum and Art Gallery (1941) and the Lefévre Gallery in London (1943), the Czechoslovak Institute in London and the New Gallery in Edinburgh (for his 60th birthday in 1944). In March 1945 he exhibited paintings and watercolors again at the Lefévre Gallery.
Feigl continued to paint during the next twenty years in England – usually landscapes and motifs from Greek mythology but also his favorite biblical motifs and scenes from street-side cafés in Paris. His work began to focus on literary and mythological motifs which he found could say more about the human lot.
In 1954 Feigl held a show in The Obelisk Gallery in London for his 70th birthday. He regularly took part in group shows at London’s Ben Uri Art Gallery which exhibited his work for his 75th and 80th birthdays in 1959 and 1964. The letter show included more than 50 paintings and watercolors – Feigl´s largest exhibition in exile, providing an overview of his work created in England.
Feigl died on December 17, 1965 in London, a few months before his 82nd birthday; his wife survived him by six months. They are buried at Willesden Green in London. In his obituary for Feigl his friend wrote the following: “Although he exhibited in London, his work didn´t find the kind of attention it deserved. We can be sure that he will be rediscovered one day … Let those who remember Friedrich Feigl add the wish that his name and reputation should not live on only in his friends´ memories but should reverberate through the world.”
Jewish Museum in Prague
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