Imrich Weiner-Kráľ — June (from the cycle The Wood)

Imrich Weiner-Kráľ is considered one of the most important representatives of the Slovak version of surrealism...

Inventory No.: O 34

Artist: Imrich Weiner-Kráľ
Title: June (from the cycle The Wood)

Year: 1962-63
Technique: oil
Material: canvas
Dimensions: 54 x 65 cm
Signature: none

Imrich Weiner-Kráľ is considered one of the most important representatives of the Slovak version of surrealism, the so-called “over-realism” [nadrealizmus in Slovak] in fine art. Many art theorists find the general notion of linking his work to surrealism problematic. As Ján Abelovský states: “Even today, Weiner’s surrealistic period is full of misunderstandings and unclear terminology from “surrealism á la Weiner”, all the way to “Slovak poetism”, preferred by the artist himself. It signifies that Weiner’s over-realistic painting was internally conflicted and related to surrealism only superficially. […] The dominating part of his over-realistic painting followed other principles. It was a subject to blending surrealistic style with original spiritual notions of the Slovak mythology.” [1]

Weiner-Kráľ combined modernistic artistic style with surrealistic and metaphysical visual thinking. On one hand, he used characteristic features of surrealism, like monumentality in the depiction of human body, compressing various forms and scenes into one picture plane, levitating objects, overturning time and space causality within individual paintings and other features. On the other hand, he avoided automatism, a typical surrealistic method and tried to picture Slovak reality through simple country folk and their life. While his works of the 1920s seem to satirise Slovak country life, he turns to associative poetics with a strong balladic sense of both country and urban environment in the mid 1930s, that are considered to be his peak creative period. Country life became his most important inspiration source, however, he did not idealise it as some our other painters of Slovak modernism (Benka, Bazovský, Fulla), but he rather tried to get under its hood and uncover and understand the ambiguous and complex world of “Slovakism”.

Besides country life, the themes of Imrich Weiner-Kráľ’s works also include his Jewish origins and social topics related to his time period. A few of his cycles picture catastrophic visions and warning signs. For example, one of his paintings dated to the second part of the 1930s depicts the Jewish Street in Bratislava and insinuates a cold, dark suspicion that came true shortly after its creation. One of his pictures of the Jewish Street that is dated to 1960s can be also found in the Nitra Gallery collection.

The oil painting titled June from the Nitra Gallery collection is a part of twelve canvases with a collective title The Wood. Another one titled May is also in our collection. A few other paintings of this cycle that are in the collection of the Slovak National Gallery can be found at this website.

The paintings are named after moths and depict chronologically a balladic story of a lumberjack/raftsman and his tragic ending. The Wood cycle is the artist’s return to the 1930s, a period he spent creating various balladic paintings depicting country life that are formally and thematically similar to this one. In the series of paintings from the 1960s, Weiner-Kráľ returns to huge human statures, combines various space and time planes into one image and uses diverse metaphors and symbols.

Rafts, ferries and raftsmen were some of the favourite motives of Weiner-Kráľ. Several famous paintings (one of the best known ones is called Rachovo, dated to 1935, feature a figure of a raftsman that can be perceived either as a representative of a traditional Slovak profession or allegorically as Charon, a mythical ferryman who carries souls into the realm of the dead.

Almost the whole composition of our painting titled June is dominated by a majestic figure of a raftsman that stretches across the canvas diagonally. He is rafting on the river whose bank is covered with traditional Slovak log homes and there are signs of landscape in the background. The upper part of the painting, right above the raftsman’s arm, features his wife, or his dear one, who is awaiting his return from log driving while she is holding a rooster. A rooster is an old folk symbol of fertility. Its morning crow was supposed to announce a new day and drive the demons of night away. However, three noon crows in a row used to announce the death of the man – the head of the household. In this case, the rooster can be perceived as a fearful intuition of a tragic ending that is illustrated in other parts of the cycle. The June painting can be read on its own, but its full understanding requires the knowledge of the whole cycle. Unfortunately, it is no longer located all at one place.

Imrich Weiner-Kráľ was born in Považská Bystrica on 26 October 1901. Between 1919-1922 he studied in Prague at the School of Applied Arts and shortly after that he studied architecture and painting at the Czech Technical University. In 1922, he continued with his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Düsseldorf, in 1923 at the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin and in 1924 at École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He worked there for a while in the studios of Colarossi and Grande Chaumiére. In 1924, he returned to Slovakia and lived in Považská Bystrica. Between 1926-1927 he underwent basic military training which was followed by a series of different jobs (drawer, ski instructor, clerk). In 1930, he left for a few months to Paris and between 1930–1932 he travelled Western Europe and he also spent some time at the Bauhaus in Dessau. Between 1932–1939 he worked in Bratislava. In 1936, he and František Malý held an exhibition in the Gallery of the Group of Fine Artists in Brno that was later reinstalled at the Slovak Art Forum in Bratislava and signalled the historically first entrance of surrealism into Slovak art. The first wife of Weiner-Kráľ was the first Slovak female photographer Irena Blühová. In 1939, after one of his exhibitions, he decided to stay in Paris where he later re-married and had his only daughter, Elise. During World War II, he participated in the anti-fascism movement by producing fake documents and food coupons for the illegals. This is when he came up with his cover identity “Kráľ” [meanig king in Slovak] which he later adopted as his second surname. In 1947 he received a French national award for participating in the anti-fascism movement. After the war, he founded the House of Czechoslovak Culture in Paris. He also worked as a clerk and later as the head of the Czechoslovak Information Office in Paris. When Czechoslovakia evicted French diplomats in 1950, he was deported from Paris as well. After that, he kept moving between Prague and Považská Bystrica. In 1951, he was arrested after trying to cross the border illegally and spent seven months in prison which he used to paint 45 images implementing the themes of socialistic realism. In 1961, he finally settled in Bratislava. He was a member of the Hungarian Society for Science, Literature and Art (the so-called Masaryk Academy), Bratislava’s Kunstverein and the Slovak Art Forum. Besides painting, he also worked on printmaking, illustrations and posters. He was also an active climber, played the violin and was also literary active. He died in Bratislava on 11 August 1978.

Omar Mirza
july 2017

[1] ABELOVSKÝ, Ján: Imrich Weiner-Kráľ (1901  – 1978). Exhibition Catalogue. Bratislava : Slovak National Gallery – Budapest : Slovak Institute, 2001.

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KISS-SZEMÁN, Zsófia – OBUCHOVÁ, Viera – PAŠKO, Peter: Galéria Nedbalka. Slovenské moderné umenie. Bratislava: Calder s. r. o., 2012.
KVASNIČKA, Marián: Imro Weiner-Kráľ. Katalóg výstavy. Trenčín : Oblastná galéria M. A. Bazovského, 1986.
VÁROSS, Marian: Imro Weiner-Kráľ. Bratislava : Vydavateľstvo Slovenského fondu výtvarných umení, 1963.