|Born: Johan Josef Watzek
Other: Josef Watzek
|1848, 20 December - 1903
|Bohemia [now Bílina, Czech Republic], Bilin
Austrian pictorialist and a member the ‘Das Kleebatt‘ group in Vienna in the mid-1890s.
Approved biography for Hans Watzek
(Courtesy of Christian Peterson)
Watzek was born Joahnn Josef Watzek on December 20, 1848. He studied at art academies in Leipzig and Munich, and in 1874 became a professor of drawing in Vienna. In 1894, he joined the Vienna Camera Club and two years later was admitted to London’s exclusive Linked Ring Brotherhood.
About this same time, Professor Watzek joined with fellow Austrian pictorialists Hugo Henneberg and Heinrich Kuehn, to form the Trifolium (Kleeblatt). The three traveled (to Germany, Italy, and Holland), photographed, and printed together, signing their work with a symbolic three-leaf clover. They became known for their large scale gum-bichromate prints (measuring up to two by three feet), which were impressive not only for their size, but also for their manipulated, painterly handwork and their rich and varied monochromatic colors.
Watzek made primarily landscapes and large head-portraits. The April 1899 issue of Camera Notes featured one of his male portraits, as a photogravure printed in brown ink. This picture may have come to the attention of Alfred Stieglitz, the periodical’s editor, when it was included in the deluxe London publication Pictorial Photographs: A Record of the Photographic Salon of 1895, a copy of which he owned. Stieglitz noted in Camera Notes that the image, dating from five years earlier, indicated the advanced state of artistic photography in Vienna. Watzek was a great experimenter, building his own cameras, developing new darkroom methods, and writing technical articles for the monthly magazine Weiner Photographische Blätter.
In addition to the London salon, Watzek exhibited his work in shows in Brussels, Florence, Hamburg, and London, between 1894 and 1902. Among them were the Premiere Exposition d’art Photographique, presented by the Photo-Club de Paris in 1894, and the 1899 Austellung fur Kunstlerische Photographie in Berlin. His images were reproduced in the periodicals Photograms of the Year (London) and Weiner Photographische Blätter (Vienna), and a 1902 book by Fritz Matthies-Masuren on the gum-bichromate work of the Trifolium.
Hans Watzek died in Vienna on May 12, 1903, prompting Edward Steichen to eulogize him in an early issue of Stieglitz’s new quarterly Camera Work (October 1903). He wrote, "At a time when photography is but commencing to develop seriously, his death becomes keenly felt. He was one of the few that exalted photography’s ideals by the dignity of his labors."
Stieglitz saw to it that Watzek’s work enjoyed continued attention after his death. In January 1906, five photogravures by Watzek appeared in another issue of Camera Work. That same year, Stieglitz included photographs by Watzek in two shows he organized—one of work by four Austrian and German photographers at the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, and a Photo-Secession exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. In 1910, Stieglitz lent what was supposedly the last print Watzek made to the International Exhibition of Pictorial Photography, seen at Buffalo’s Albright Art Gallery.
Christian A. Peterson Pictorial Photography at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Christian A. Peterson: Privately printed, 2012)
This biography is courtesy and copyright of Christian Peterson and is included here with permission.
Date last updated: 1 June 2013.
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