Henry Moore Institute Newsletter - Oct / Nov 2001
My late husband Arthur Fleischmann, was born at the close of the 19th Century in a city called Pozsony; situated on the Danube in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In November this year, a museum housing his sculptures will open in the very house where he lived some 90 years ago. The recently restored, arched 18th Century home is the same, the street, city and location are the same, but the names have changed several times and today the country is Slovakia and the city is Bratislava, nestling in the heart of Central Eastern Europe.
Shortly after his death at the age of 93 in 1990, our son Dominique visited Bratislava to find out more about his father and search for any early sculptures done in the 30's. Czechoslovakia as it was then, was still reeling under the influence of communism and Dominique found an alien world. However, he sowed the seeds, at that time on seemingly infertile ground, of making the Arthur Fleischmann name known to his fellow countrymen.
It is no mean achievement that 10 years on, we are about to reap this. Of course all could not have happened without the help, advice, enthusiasm and dedication of so many friends both here in the UK and in Slovakia along with the goodwill of the Embassy of the Slovak Republic, especially the input of Joanna Barnes, art historians Ben Read and Philip Ward-Jackson. Often the five of us have weathered the storms (meteorological and otherwise) to pursue this goal, journeying to Vienna and Bratislava.
Fleischmann studied sculpture in Prague under Jan Stursa and later with Prof. Mullner at the Vienna Art Academy. He also practised woodcarving in Graz and and studied art-history in Paris and Rome. He taught ceramics at the Womens Art Academy in 1935 in Vienna and carried out numerous commissions for Public Buildings and Churches in Austria and Germany.
In 1938 he travelled to South Africa where he held one-man exhibitions in Pretoria and Johannesburg. Sensing the invasion of Nazism in his beloved country he decided not to return to Europe and took a boat voyaging to exotic places including the island of Bali which he totally fell in love with. He rented a house in Denpasar and worked incessantly producing a large number of terracottas which were fired in the primitive and traditional way of the Balinese. Most likely he would never have left this artists' paradise had it not been for the imminent invasion by the Japanese army. He was lucky to fly out on the last KLM plane which landed in Darwin, Australia. For him this was a total culture shock coming from the sophistication of Bali and Hungary.
However his spirit took up the challenge of coping in a new continent and he succeeded in becoming a major figure in the 1939 - 69 art scene in Sydney. Indeed he was claimed by the writer Alan McCulloch to be the father of sculpture in New South Wales, Australia. Within the ten years of his stay in Sydney, he carried out many public commissions. The most noteworthy being the Bronze Doors of the Explorers at the NSW State Library. He was always grateful to the Australians and it is very fitting that his last work completed in 1989, entitled 'Homage to the Discovery of DNA', was commissioned for the NSW State Library.
In 1949 he sailed for Europe intending to claim his family home in Bratislava. Fate again interceded. His arrival to the UK for the first time, coincided with Czechoslovakia becoming communist and so his return to his homeland never happened. He stayed on in post-war Britain which was witnessing a major break through in British Sculpture headed by Henry Moore. Fleischmann was unknown here and he was now in his mid-50's.
But with characteristic determination and zest for life, he found his niche and pioneered the use of Perspex as a sculptural medium. He was singled out for various public commissions including the Festival of Britain Mermaid in 1951, sculptures at World Expos in Brussels in 1958 and Osaka, Japan in 1970. In 1977 he carved the 'Silver Crown' from the largest block of acrylic in the world which was unveiled by the Queen commemorating her Silver Jubilee. Although he has no major works in Public Art Galleries in the UK, he is represented in Leeds Art Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the V & A and the Prints and Drawings Department at the British Museum.
Sadly, none of his early ceramic sculptures have ever been seen in Britain but from November, 25 of these can be viewed along side some 30 pieces on loan from his estate at the Arthur Fleischmann Museum, 6 Biela St, Bratislava. There will also be an exhibit at the Mirbach Palace, Bratislava of his Acrylic Water Sculptures from the 27th November 2001 to February 2002.
Visitors might also like to journey throughout this little known area and see the Andy Warhol museum in Medzilaborle.
Egon Schiele Museum at C. Krumlob, Nr Lintz, South Bohemia Vasareley in Budapest Charoux and Hanak at Kellergasse, Langenzerksdorf, Vienna
Through the efforts of the Arthur Fleischmann Foundation, the work and life of Arthur Fleischmann has come full circle. The new museum will be administrated by the City Museum and will be a permanent feature of the cultural life of Slovakia.