Kralik

Unravelling the mysteries
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Written by Alfredo Villanueva-Collado, Ph.D.

Photos © Abersio Núńez

 

Recently, I saw a piece of pink glass at a reputable dealer’s shop in New York City.  It had an organic shape, an unadorned surface, and the soft iridescence typical of Candia glass. I inquired about it; I was told it was "Loetz" and carried a price tag of $1200.  I did not bother to inform the dealer that his piece appeared as Kralik in the Passau Museum catalogue [PMC] IV.259. 
In preparation for this article, I had just bought on E-bay another pink piece from this family of vessels, advertised as "Loetz?," which I had coveted ever since another dealer, years ago, had shown it to me, with a hefty price tag of $1850, as "rare Loetz."   And I recall yet another piece-magnificent, but indubitably Kralik-being offered at a show as "Loetz" for upwards of $4000.

Given the prices at which it is being marketed when labeled "Loetz," getting Kralik glass to be recognized on its own has perhaps become the most challenging task for the researcher of Bohemian Jugendstil glass.   First, there are very few authenticated pieces, since Kralik followed the standard period practice of not signing its pieces, except cameos, many pieces being misidentified in some of the major art glass publications of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, such as the 1969 Villa-Stuck Museum exhibition catalogue, the Brohan Collection catalogue from 1976, and innumerable Christie’s and Sotheby’s art glass sales catalogues.   Based on such information, I myself misclassified pieces by Kralik in my first article on Bohemian Jugendstil glass [NATS-see cover; also 52-53 and 57]

Second, available information is simply unreliable. Wes Nedblake asserts that "Kralik was actually and affiliate of Loetz and second only to Loetz in diversity, creative nature and broad range of designs and executions"; that "Kralik actually did produce glass for Loetz in a number of patterns and had the ability to match quality for quality on these items;" that "Kralik was the master at casing glass-up to six layers-even beyond Loetz’s capability;" and that "Kralik was known to produce many designs developed by Otto Prutscher, Dagobert Peche, Adolph Beckert, Marie Beckert and even Edward Prochaska" (13).

I asked Belgian collector Eddy Scheepers to check on the possible sources for such statements which, in my view, did not describe Kralik production as I knew it.   After consulting the PMC (IV, p140-51 for Meyr’s Neffe and pp.152-63 for Kralik), he came up with a surprising answer.  After Wilhelm Ritter von Kralik’s death in 1877, his glassworks were divided among his four sons.   Karl Kralik’s half became Meyr’s Neffe.  After his death in 1899, his two sons, Albert and Rudolph, took over, keeping the "Meyr’s Neffe" name. Scheepers states: "Meyr’s Neffe was indeed a well known and highly regarded glass factory that worked for such famous designers as Hoffmann, Prutcher in collaboration with Lobmeyer and Bakalowitz in Vienna. Their production was completely different from what we commonly know as Kralik."

Third, what we commonly know as Kralik - the white martelé variety with flowers, fruits or other decorations stuck on the outside, or the production from the Deco period-is not of the quality one associates with great Bohemian Jugendstil glass.  Scheepers explains: "The other half of the company was taken over by Heinrich and Johann Kralik. They started working as ‘Wilhelm Kralik Sohn’ in Eleonoranhein and Ernstbrunn. This is the Kralik we know best." The quality of production Nedblake attributes to Kralik corresponds to Meyr’s Neffe. As far as either company being a Loetz affiliate, Scheepers has not been able to find any corroborating source.

Thus, John Bacile’s judgement on Kralik’s Jugendstil production: "While companies like Tiffany, Loetz, Gallé and Daum were revolutionizing the glass industry almost on a daily basis, many companies like Kralik were reproducing unimaginative and technically unsophisticated examples. Void of inspired leadership . . . Kralik was humbly reduced to making inferior examples similar to Loetz and other great glasshouses." However, according to Bacile, Kralik’s imaginative and technical poverty underwent an astonishing transformation during the Art Deco period: "Like Mardi Gras in February, Deco Kralik glass vases bursted [sic.] with imagination and spontaneity, exhibiting an exuberance unequaled in glass" (3).

Nedblake illustrates his article with 17 pieces, 12 of which exhibit the stuck-on decorations we have come to associate with Kralik. Robert Truitt includes Kralik in his section on Hosch glass (CBG I, 75), showing the all-too-familiar pieces, which reappear in 7 out of 11 pictures with which he illustrates the section on Kralik (CBG I, 79-80).  He also includes some Deco Kralik in his section on "Furnace Decorated glass" (CBG II:54-55). The PMC presents a more diverse picture. Band IV deals with Jugendstil Kralik (see ref. above) and Band VI: Art Deco. Moderne deals with Deco Kralik (39-44).

Nedblake and Bacile represent the extremes of over/and/under evaluation Kralik currently suffers.  My working hypothesis includes several premises:
a) that most high quality Kralik has been aggressively marketed as Loetz, leaving only very few, standard quality lines to be identified as Kralik;
(b) that it is possible to recognize new Kralik lines by carefully studying known Kralik shapes and decorative treatments. Thus, intuition and careful guesswork will play as important a role in my research as sources-which, I have painfully learned, are always subject to fluctuation and revision. But, above all, I will try to rely on the handling of pieces themselves, in an archeological fashion.

Kralik01S.jpg (4742 bytes) Kralik02S.jpg (7400 bytes) Kralik03S.jpg (6982 bytes) Kralik04S.jpg (4244 bytes)
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So far, the most reliable source of illustrations for Kralik pieces is the PMC. Most of the lines are not identified by name, as is the case with Loetz. The "Helios’ line is characterized by opaque yellow glass with spotted orange decoration (PMC IV: 263; Photo 1). A second identifiable line consists of vessels in purple or green glass, criss-crossed by wide iridescent silver or rainbow-colored bands (PMC IV: 265; Photo 2; 3: vase on the right, same shape as PMC IV:260). Inkwells, habitually advertised as Loetz, also appear in this characteristic type of glass. Photo 4 shows a vase identical in shape to the left hand vase in Photo 3 - this particular applied teardrop decoration is typically Kralik.  I find it more tasteful than stuck-on flowers and fruits.

 

Kralik05S.jpg (5029 bytes) Kralik06S.jpg (6062 bytes) Kralik07S.jpg (6441 bytes) The poverty of documentation on Kralik is evident from the fact that both Pazaurek 87:145 and Brohan 56:59 show the same bowl, in what is perhaps the only consistently identified Kralik surface treatment :smooth irregular lines in a mixture of red and creamy beige, with silvery blue iridescence. The decoration is fused to the surface of the vessel. Other pieces with similar but raised decoration are classified by the Passau Museum as Rindskopf, as illustrated in CBG I, 119:3 and reported by Robert Truitt in a letter to Glass Collectors Digest (3). Vessels are virtually undistinguishable from each other, except for this difference (photo 5:Kralik "smooth" surface; 6:Rindskopf’s "rough" surface).
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The PMC IV shows only one piece from this line (IV:262), also illustrated in CBG I, 81:1 (photo 7). To complicate matters, this particular piece appears in Ricke 2, 369 as having been manufactured by Loetz for Robert Medeu & Co., Berlin. Villa-Stuck 98-99 shows two other vases from the same line, but classified as Loetz. Thus, the only widely recognized Kralik line may contain vessels designed for Loetz and seems to have been "adapted" by Rindskopf. It may be indeed that the placement of the decoration in these vessels indicates different provenance; on the other hand, even the most updated catalogue may also contain attribution errors.

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