First published: Summer 2013
He called himself “Court Painter of Austria, Italy and Siam” and also a “laughing philosopher”. He was a pacifist, preached a healthy way of living and painted untiringly. The Austrian Josef Karl Rädler (1844–1917) was a contemplative and, at the same time, difficult person. From the age of 50 to the end of his life he lived in lunatic asylums, as they were then called. 50 years after his death, between 800 and 900 of his drawings were saved from the rubbish bin.
“I was fascinated”, Prof. Dr Leo Navratil (1921–2006) wrote in his book on Josef Karl Rädler, when in 1972 a nurse offered him some of Rädler’s drawings. It was only 20 years later that Prof. Navratil found the time to attend to Rädler’s work. He had meanwhile gained his reputation as an author on Art Brut and as discoverer of the Gugging artists. Analysing Rädler’s medical files, Navratil wrote a catalogue for Rädler’s exhibition in St Pölten, Lower Austria, 1994, so far the one and only – and therefore the authoritative – source of information on the work of this unique artist.
Josef Karl Rädler was born in 1844 in the Bohemian town of Falkenau. Today, it is called Sokolov and is situated in the Czech Republic. He moved to Vienna when he was 23 years old and became a master porcelain painter. Together with Robert Pilz, he founded the “Artistische Atelier für Porzellanmalerei Rädler & Pilz” in 1872, one of the most important enterprises in this field. Rädler’s studio had branches and storerooms around the world.
His firm took part in the world exhibitions of Vienna (1873) and Paris (1878), and was awarded numerous medals, certificates and national awards. It designed porcelain services for the Rothschild family; Rädler’s products were donated by Archduke Rainer to the South Kensington Museum – today the Victoria and Albert Museum – in London. The firm’s products were nostalgic imitations of an old Viennese style and a historicism of the former Viennese Porcelain Factory from around 1800, as well as of designs by painter Angelika Kaufmann (1741–1807) and the pompous style of painter Hans Makart (1840–1884). The Viennese liked them, and they were in great demand for export.
Occasionally, objects made by Rädler & Pilz turn up on the art market and in auctions. However, it is currently unknown what Rädler’s own porcelain-painting looks like.
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #79