Almost ten years ago in 2007 Howard Greenberg published An American Gallery to celebrate his 25th year in photography. In it he showed 25 photographs drawn from his collection. Howard is a tremendous gallery owner and and a really nice person! This book is a marvel and Howard’s comments, which accompany the pictures, reveal his great passion for photography. Every two weeks for the next year we will serialise the book. Today, this is Nude (c.1927) by Frantisek Drtikol.
"Drtikol was one of the first shows that I had when I moved into my new gallery in Soho in 1991. And it was one of the handful of times I truly regret not having done a catalogue because the show was unique. I had exceptional pigment prints, paintings, charcoal drawings and even some of his wooden sculptures, which are phenomenally rare. It was the only comprehensive exhibition ever mounted on Drtikol in this country, filled with material I managed to get from collectors in Czechoslovakia. It was a show that could never be assembled again.
I love Drtikol because he is a part of the era that has preoccupied me so much the transition from Pictorialism to Modernism. Drtikors early Art Nouveau pictures morphed into Art Deco and that’s when he really hit his stride. His best works are the nudes, mysterious nudes posed in theatrical tableaux surrounded by geometric deco props that he constructed himself. He was a master, not only of staging and lighting, but also printmaking; his beautiful, unusual approach adds to the allure of the photographs.
Drtikol was also a bit of a lunatic. You learn about him through his self portraits: Drtikol as Jesus on the cross; Drtikol mugging for the camera with two nude models, his hands on their breasts; Drtikol completely naked in full lotus position. They’re the work of a fantastic spirit, a person who certainly danced to his own little beat.
I did a second Drtikol show in I 996. The supply of pigment prints was drying up, but I was able to acquire a group that was the best rd ever seen.
Among them was this print. It’s wonderful because it’s three.-dimensional.
The foreground is in sharp focus, but it recedes into out.-of .. focus, and the effect, because of the pigment process, gives the illusion that you are moving through the surface and into the depth of the print. It has all the elements you would want in a Drtikol of the highest accomplishment.
During the exhibition everybody commented on what an amazing photograph it was. I had it on hold for at least four different clients, but nobody took the plunge. The price was high, but I felt justified. I knew how good it was, and how real it was, and I later found out from a Drtikol scholar that there was no other print of it in existence: One day I said to myself, …. That’s it, if rm the only one who fully appreciates this photograph then I am just going to take it home and keep it.” I was really happy with that decision."