Friday, 7 November 2014

Max Pollak: Vienna portraits.

Max Pollak
(Prag 1886-1970 San Francisco)

Austrian-American painter and etcher.

I'm a great admirer of Max Pollak. To admire one does not have to actually own a work: I don't. But wouldn't I ? I'm always on the look out. His technique (aquatint, soft ground etching) to create atmosphere in his city views of New-York, San Francisco, Paris, Vienna etc.. with "simple" washes of gray or light purple coloring is quite unique.   

But it is the sparse and delicate use of just a few "Japanese" color accents, a detail used in all his city- and landscapes making him immediately recognizable. I wonder how he came to it: Emil Orlik's influence perhaps ? In America he's probably best known by his New-York Views, commissioned by Theodor Dreiser's for his limited edition "My City" in 1929. The Annex Gallery recently announced their newest in stock here* : many city views. I will show more of those later. Pollak had only arrived in New-York two years before. 

This etched portrait above was simply described as "a pianist". It took me some time on a rainy day, but I've figured it out. It is concert pianist and composer Alfred Grünfeldt (Prag 1852-1924), friend of Johannes Brahms and Johann Strauss sr. He was also the first pianist in history to make commercial recordings. He travelled all over Europe and the United States performing often with the Vienna Philharmonic.

Pollak and his wife Friedl emigrated to the US in 1927 being already established and successful in the 1920's in Vienna as a society (actors, writers, dancers, musicians and scientists) portrait artist. He'd been a student of the "great" William Unger (1837-1932) and Ferdinand Schmutzer (1870-1928).

Portrait of Arnold Rose (Rosenblum) (1863-1946) the legendary Wiener Philharmonie  conductor who'd led this orchestra for over 50 years. 

He married Justine, Gustav Mahler's sister, his brother marrying the other  one. Arnold Rose sat also for Ferdinand Schmutzer as did Gustav Mahler for Emil Orlik (below).   

Vienna was the home of three contemporary and successful aquatint etchers: Pollak, Luigi Kasimir (1881-1962) and Hans Figura (1898-1978). Both Kasimir and Figura (who had been Kasimir's student) travelled to New-York and it wouldn't surprise me if Pollak invited them to celebrate his succes, he had a solo exhibition in New York in 1928. Kasimir and Figura never tried at portraits by the way. (*)

 Brooklyn bridge by Luigi Kasimir and by Hans Figura,  

 and by Tavik Frantisek Simon 

(*) The fourth and probably most famous aquatint and portrait etcher from Czech descent of that period was Tavik Frantisek Simon (1877-1942) but he, after working in Paris 1905-1913, had returned to Prag in 1917. 

Kasimir, famous for his city-views had also been a William Unger student at Vienna Art Academy (as was printmaker Norbertine von Bresslern-Roth (1891-1978). 

Portrait of Emil (von) Sauer (1862-1942), he was knighted in 1917, a famous Vienna concert pianist and had been a student of Anton Rubinstein and Franz Lizst. 

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) Vienna neurologist and psychiater, portrait  by Max Pollak,

and portraits by Ferdinand Schmutzer, who was also a keen photographer using his negatives in his etchings work as I mentioned in before postings (follow the link below). 

This posting is what I was able to scratch together concerning Max Pollak's Vienna portrait etchings. Sadly a few are "hidden" and can not be digitally revealed (by me). 

After settling in America Pollak almost exclusively turned his attention to city views and landscapes. Before, he'd travelled through Europe and sketched extensively as he did later in South America when he lived in San Francisco. 
A young Yehudi Menuhin

Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999) also played with the Vienna Philharmonic in America, from 1926/27. 

Until his departure in 1927 together with Ferdinand Schmutzer and Emil Orlik these three etchers seem to have portrayed and etched many of  Austria's  celebrities, the rich and famous, of the 1920's. 


Portraits of unidentified persons.
(Wouldn't it be great to identify them).

Portrait of M..?... Deutsch.
(See next posting for identifcation)
Portrait of "a man". Probably in his 70's in the mid 1920's.

I would like very much to identify these two persons above, any clues or help is welcomed. Also portraits that I've missed of course. My email in the link above.

a "Dutch Study"

All pictures borrowed freely from the internet for friendly, educational and non commercial use only. 


  1. Hi Gerrie - many thanks for the post on Max Pollak. I love his work and have about a dozen of the color prints, including several NY views, but I'm going to start looking for portraits as well now. The Annex Galleries collection is amazing, especially that urban hillside in Cincinnati. Tom

    1. Thank you Tom for your help and commenting. I hope our paths will not cross while looking. Good luck hunting.