Thursday, August 27, 2015

Petr Brandl

Simeon with Infant Jesus
oil on canvas
National Gallery in Prague, Czech Republic
other details unknown

Petr Brandl (1668-1739) was a leading Baroque painter in Bohemia. He employed strong chiaroscuro and created emotional and energetic works that are characterized by a powerful, passionate movement of colors and dramatic tension as well as a distinct tenderness. His mature works were created during the Baroque glory years, from 1715 to 1728. His exceptional works had a massive influence on Czech art.

He was the sixth child in a Czech-German family. His father worked as a tailor and was of German ancestry. His mother was Czech from a peasant family in a south Bohemian town. As a child he would often gaze at the paintings in Nostic Palace of Prague’s Lesser Quarter. After dropping out of a Jesuit grammar school, he worked as an apprentice to a court painter who introduced him to Italian, Dutch and Flemish masterpieces. Opting for a bohemian lifestyle, he did not finish the apprenticeship.

His personal life was fraught with problems, and he lived irresponsibly, frequenting pubs of ill repute. Sometimes he called noble residences or monasteries home, but he also spent time in prison and was poverty-stricken. After abandoning his wife and their three children, he refused to pay her alimony even when he was paid well for his paintings. His wife even sued him several times. Always wasting money, he seemed to be perpetually in debt. He was not one to keep his promises, and sometimes it would take him years to complete a commission. Though he had been accepted in the Old Town painters’ guild in 1694, he did not have enough money to pay the dues.

When he was 36 years old, the artistic world held high expectations of him. He executed an altarpiece for the Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary in Doksany during 1703. From 1710 to 1723, he did not produce many paintings. He devoted most of his time to his investments in a mining business. Instead of making a fortune, he wound up accruing more debts. Then he returned to painting full-time. When he was 60, things took a turn for the worst. Not only did he battle illnesses , but his problems with debts also came to the fore. He was imprisoned and upon his release acquired even more debts. In 1733 all his paintings and clothing were confiscated, and his creditors received the money obtained from selling them. The poverty-stricken painter often visited the pub, where he was found dead September 24, 1735. His funeral was as dramatic as his paintings. The Cistercians, the Jesuits, the town council, the Mining Authority and about 300 miners with lamps shining paid tribute to the extraordinarily talented, vagabond painter who was laid to rest in the Church of the Virgin Mary.