Frantisek Kobliha (Biographical details)

Frantisek Kobliha (printmaker; Czechoslovakian; Male; 1877 - 1962)

Also known as

Kobliha, Frantisek


Illustrator, wood-engraver. Born into a family of small shopkeepers, Frantisek Kobliha was educated in Prague at Umprum, the school of applied arts, (1896-1899) and then at the Academy of Fine Arts (1901-1905), where he studied painting with Prof. Zenisek.
He began to experiment with printmaking once he left the university; he abandoned colour for black and white tonal variations, and although he initially preferred lithography, Kobliha concentrated on wood engraving for much of his career. His early series of prints include Simple motifs (1908), The Small Hours (1909), Tristan (1909-1910), Vengeful Plainsong (1910), May (1911), and Woman (1911). Kobliha drew from works by writers such as Hlavacek, Macha, Maeterlinck, Nerval, Poe and Prochazka as a source of inspiration, rather than texts to be illustrated.
Kobliha became the first chairman of Sursum, a group of artists and writers known as the second symbolist generation for their interest in religion and the occult. He participated in their 1910 exhibition in Brno, but left Sursum the following year when he became more involved with the Decadent journal, Modern Review. This was one of the first Czech journals to exhibit graphic art, introducing Odilon Redon, Aubrey Beardsley, Toulouse-Lautrec, Felicien Rops and Felix Valloton. Kobliha contributed critical articles as well as providing illustrations and designs for the magazine as a 'beautiful book'. Kobliha also worked on bibliophile editions of literary works published by Kamilla Neumannova, often using floral motifs and the story's central figure as frontispiece.
In 1914, Kobliha published his views of Prague, revealing its abandoned and secretive places rather than the city's conventional landmarks. Whilst in 1916 he produced Stories and Legends, a series that includes fantastic hybrids and monsters, by 1919 Kobliha returned to realistic settings in his depiction of Romantic mountain landscapes, From Sumava, From Tatras. The influence of this study of Nature is evident in The Temptation of Saint Anthony (1925) where Kobliha pays attention to the detailed presentation of exotic flowers.
Sharing the views of Arnost Prochazka, the editor of Modern Review, Kobliha took an increasingly conservative stance against progressive artistic trends from 1920 onwards; he included the work of Zrzavy and Vachal, former members of Sursum, in this critical attack on modern art. He became a member of Hollar, the graphic artists' association, in 1923; he wrote for their magazine and was chairman from1934-38. During the 1920s, Kobliha produced his own bibliophile editions of works by authors such as Zeyer, Karasek, Opolsky and Medek. In the 1930s he returned to colour through pastels and watercolours, producing works that can be related to interwar abstract art. Between 1944-50, Kobliha made the following series of lithographs, Fantasy of lunar nights (1944-6), Midnight Visions (1949) and Cosmic Visions (1946) and in 1950 he produced 30 lithographs inspired by the poems and prose of E.A. Poe.
Kobliha had a profound appreciation for the work of Odilon Redon; in his article on the artist, (Hollar IV, 1927-8, p90) he describes graphic art as the medium in which one can 'express the innermost experiences of the spirit, the idea and the dream'. Indeed, Kobliha's solitary figures, often presented with their backs turned against the viewer as they look into a night sky, cultivates an atmosphere of introspection and imagining. Petr Wittlich describes Kobliha's work as somewhere between the Decadent tone of Hlavacek, the lyricism of Jan Preisler and the transcendentalism of Frantisek Bilek.