Emil Orlik was born in Prague on 21st July 1870 to a Jewish family. His father was a master tailor as was his brother Hugo. During this time there was a large group of German speakers in Prague (called the Bohemian Germans) which included Franz Kafka and Rainer Maria Rilke the poet. Through out his youth he was passionate for drawing, when graduating in 1889 he was approved by his father to go to Germany. Orlik Goal, was to enroll to the Academy of Fine arts. He wasn’t accepted so he went to a private school of Heinrich Knirr in Munich. Orlik’s wish was still to be accepted to the academy of arts, which had been fulfilled in 1891. He was under the guidance of Professor Von Lindenschmit, who had recognized his talent and allocated him a small studio. In this period of his life Orlik worked hard, copying old masters at the Munich Pinakothek, improving his techniques. During this year Orlik drew a lot of portraits of Rilke, menzel and Dublin. Starting from 1887 Emil Orlik worked in the Magazing “youth” which was published in Munich. In 1893 Orlik won a silver medal in the annual Exhibition of the Academy, he was also received the honor to be shown next to Adolf Von Menzel one of the most prominent artists in Germany. That same year he left the Academy, willing to work and explore new and modern methods and techniques as opposed to the conservative studies in the Academy. He was Drawn to the Natauralist movement in Munich and to the circle of friends around Wilhelm Leibl.
After a year of military service he had returned to Prague where he drew and painted his surroundings.
In 1896 Orlik returned to Munich, to work with his classmate and childhood friend Bernhard Pankok on colored wood carvings. They saw examples of Japanese carvings which had fascinated them.
In 1898 Orlik made his first big trip in Europe- England, Scotland, Holland and France. In there he met Felix Vallotton and Willian NIcholson who influenced his future work. When he returned to Prague, he established his studio in an old tower with a wide city view. Orlik owned this studio until 1904, even though he lived in Vienna since 1897. In 1899 Orlik joined to “Vienna Secession” (movement of artist in architecture, music and arts which was belong to the movement of Art Nouveau which was created in 1897 in Vienna. It first president was Gustav Klimt). Orlik displayed his works in the third exhibition of the new movement and as a member he contributed to the publicity of the group by bringing the “‘Japonisme'” technique to the public eye. The “Vienna secession” attracted many visitors including well know and respected artists as Toulouse-Lautrec, Camle pissaro, Claude monet and August renoir.
In 1900, Emil orlik presented his first solo exhibition in Austria, the exhibition had great success. During this year Max Lehr had introduced him tonMary Von Gomperz and her father Max Von Gomperz who was a wealthy industrialist and a patron of the arts. Between Mary and Orlik was a long correspondence which had lasted till his death in 1932. Max Von Gomperz bought and commissioned many paintings and other works by Orlik. The family’s extensive collection was presented at the Vienna Jewish Museum in 1997.
In 1900, Orlik was traveling in East Asia, where he ought to learn directly from the Masters in Japan the techniques which fascinated him, in 1901 he wrote to Max Mount that he spent a vast fortune buying Japanese prints and works.
On his return in 1901 he began to prepare for an important exhibition which held place in the prestigious Cassirer gallery in Berlin.
. During the following year Orlik had a series of one-man shows in many venues, including one at the Rudolphinum in Prague at which the entire exhibition was bought by the Prague Kupferstichabinett.
His name and reputation was now presented in the same breath with great artists such as Gustav Klimt, Claude monet and Camille Pissaro. He had traveled to England and france, there he met Cezanne who influenced him greatly.
Orlik moved his studio to Berlin at the same time he was appointed to be the head of the department for graphic art and book illustration at the Academy of the Museum of Applied Arts in Berlin, he retained the job till his retirement at 1930.
In 1912 Orlik made another trip now heading north Africa, China, Korea, Japan and back to Europe through Siberia. In Egypt he created several stunning prints. After his return he continued to be a key member of the “Vienna succession” till his resignation in 1913.
Book design became an important part of Orlik’s oeuvre, he designed hundreds of books for friends and collectors.
In December 1917 Orlik was appointed official artist to the Best-Litovsk Peace Conference at which Russia and Germany ended their conflict. He produced 72 portrait studies at the conference, including a number of Leo Trotsky.
After the war, Orlik participated in many venues throughout Europe, he also became interested in photography and the use of light. Orlikwas one of the pioneers of using the camera for paintings and graphic works. Orlik claimed the photography helps to acquire the essence of the person. In 1917 he had produced on the basis of a photograph a brilliant paintings of Abert Einstein, Marlene Dietrich and many others.
In December 1923, Orlik made his last trip outside of Europe.He received a commission to paint the portrait of a sitter in Cincinnati . His Journey and two month in USA were provided. While Orlik was in the United States he presented in New York. The city Fascinated him, he wrote to a friend: “After overcoming the first confusion it is a completely different world. The city is amazing. The dollar rules here!”. Orlik added that he founded that it is easier to get used to china then to the USA.!
After returning to Europe Orlik became one of the most renowned artists of his time, he continued to tour Europe. Portrait commissions and graphic work kept him busy till the time of his death from a heart attack in Berlin on 28th September 1932. His brother Hugo inherited Emil’s orlik fortune (which included paintings, drawings and several works by Henri Matisse and Cezanne).
Hugo and his family perished during the Holocaust, the family’s only survivor was their aunt, she regained some of the inheritance.
In 1963 the first post-war German exhibitions of Orlik’s works were held in Berlin and Stuttgart and then in 1977 there was a major retrospective in Austria. Interest in his work was rekindled and his stature and importance once again recognized. Many books about Orlik and his works have been published and once again he has taken his place in art history as an important painter and ground-breaking print-maker.