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Mario Joseph Korbel

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Mario Joseph Korbel
The Royal Academy, Academie Julian Sculptor
American, (3/22/1882–3/31/1954)
Josef Mario Korbel was born in Osik, Bohemia (present day Czech Republic) to a Roman Catholic mother, Katherine Dolezal, and a strict, moralistic Morovian father, Josef Korbel. His early education was in a Pietist Protestant sect, part of the Morovian Church that originated in Bohemia in the 1400s. Despite Mario's interest and talent for art, his father strongly discouraged an artistic career. However, his mother arranged for him to model ornamental sculptures.

At the age of eighteen, Korbel moved to New York and then to Chicago where he found a supportive Bohemian community. He was employed at Kunst and Pfaffke modelling ornamental interior moldings. After several years working in this trade in Chicago and Milwaukee, Korbel returned to Europe in 1905. He briefly studied in Berlin, then at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, and then attended the Adademie Julian in Paris, where he exhibited at the 1909 Salon.

Armed with his European training, he returned to Chicago in 1910. He followed the classical traditions of Graeco-Roman sculptures as well as the modernist twist found in the work of Auguste Rodin. In 1910, Korbel exhibited six (6) works in a group show at th Art Institute of Chicago and received the Shaffer Prize for one of his portraits. During this time, he was asked by the city of Racine, Wisconsin to design a monument to commemorate the Bohemian patriot Karel Jonas. He was also commissioned to sculpt several portraits for public and private commissions in Chicago, St. Louis, and Denver.

Recognizing that the center of the American art world was New York, Korbel relocated in 1913 to a studio in Washington Square. He was asked to participate in a joint show in 1913 by Henry Reinhardt, who had galleries in New York, Chicago, and Paris. Korbel showed 27 sculptures, primarily portraits and a few nudes. A second show followed in 1915 where his The Dancer (AKA Bacchante) received great reviews. The model for the work was a contemporary dancer, Hilda Beyer, whom Korbel had seeen dance in Chicago in 1912. He became infatuated with the memory of her lithe form and graceful moves which he repeatedly captured in most of his figural work of this early period.

Korbel's fantasies became a reality when he was introduced to Beyer in 1915. Beyer agreed to model for Korbel, resulting in some of his best work. Beyer modelled for Andante, one of his best known classical works. It portrays two female figures in a co-joined dance pose. It was cast in a series of seven (7) statuettes in 1916 and two (2) larger versions were cast in 1926. Eventually, Beyer and Korbel married in 1917, but they were later divorced in 1924 because Beyer did not enjoy the life of a sculptor's wife.

Shortly after his marriage to Beyer, Korbel had his first solo show at the Gorham Galleries in New York. He exhibited about sixty works consisting of statuettes, portraits, and fountains. The impressive exhibition demonstrated Korbel's ambition and skill as a leading sculptor in the early 20th century.

As an activist in the Bohemian Art Society, Korbel went to Cuba to lobby for assistance for the Bohemian Provisional Government. He stayed in Havana for ten months where his only son was born in 1918. During his stay in Cuba, he completed his first portrait of the Cuban President, Menocal, and the monumental bronze, Alma Mater, at the National University of Havana.

Upon his return to the U.S., he completed his most commercially successful work, Nocturne. In this work, he used classical drapery for framing rather than concealing. He also began to experiment with different finishes on this work.

Between 1921 and 1923, Korbel returned to his native country to work in Prague where the cost of living, labor, and production of his sculptures was less. During this time, he completed a life size marble sculpture of Night for the Nicholas F. Bradys for their Old Westbury estate. This led to several other commissions of the same subject with slight variatons. Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington purchased the final version in 1933 for Brookgreen Gardens.

Much of the 1920s was spent travelling to Detroit and Cuba for commissions, and he summered in Paris. Most of his works were portraits and fountains for wealthy Americans. Korbel's good looks and continental manners allowed him access to the elite social circles. However, as tastes changed and the Depression engulfed the country, his commissions waned in the 1930s.

Korbel was a member of the American Academy, the French Legion of Honor, the National Sculpture Society, the Architectural League of New York, the Czechoslovak Art Club, the Evangelical Church Club, and the Embassy Club. Korbel was also a member of the National Academy of Design.

Conner, Janis and Joel Rosenkranz. Rediscoveries in American Sculpture: Studio Works 1893-1939. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1989.

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