One of the best Czech-American Artists You May Not Know
Mario Josef Korbel
In the process of Onward To Our Past® (http://OnwardToOurPast.com) Genealogy & History Services Company’s recent translation from page 153 of Amerikán Národní Kalendář; Volume, XLIV; Year, 1921; we couldn’t help but notice the image of the Beránek family plot in Bohemian National Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois, which accompanied the article. It was titled “HE BUILT A MEMORIAL TO HIMSELF DURING HIS LIFE”. It went on to say “Sculpture of Resignation above the grave of Emanuel Beránek – one of the most beautiful landmarks found in the Bohemian National Cemetery in Chicago…The sculpture is a work of one of the best known Czechoamerican artists – the sculptor Mario Josef Korbel…” (You can read the full translation at http://onwardtoourpast.com/ank-article-translations/czech-genealogy-culture-cooking-and-sculpture-from-1921-amerikan-narodni-kalendar-plus-more-in-pdf.html)
We think you will agree from the image the sculpture titled ‘Resignation’ is truly beautiful. But we must admit we were curious as to who the sculptor was of this amazing piece. We were unfamiliar with the name so we began to research Mr. Korbel and found him both fascinating and an extremely accomplished artist.
While not from the Frantisek Korbel and Brothers California champagne vineyards family, Mario Josef Korbel was a celebrated Czech-American in his own right. He spun his magic not in grapes, wine, and champagne, but in bronze and brass as a world-renowned sculptor.
Born in Osík, Bohemia in 1882, Korbel showed a deep artistic talent from a very young age. If not for his mother’s determination and her championing of his talents, they may have gone to waste. His father, due to his rather fanatical religious beliefs, was not at all supportive of his work as an artist.
By the time he was 18, Korbel had left Bohemia and moved to New York City. After only a short time, he moved on to Chicago while continuing to work on his sculpting. After a few successful years in Chicago, he left to return to Europe. However, he did not return to Bohemia. Rather he studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich and then the Académie Julian in Paris. He then returned to Chicago for a few years, but soon moved back to New York City, where he then resided permanently.
He became a commercial success and was sought out for commission all across the United States, often by those with Bohemian connections, but certainly not exclusively. The major and fairly consistent theme in his work was female nudes and his long time model was a woman by the name of Hilda Beyer, a professional dancer, whom he later married, but shortly thereafter divorced.
Korbel didn’t just stay in New York either. He spent ten months in Cuba in 1918 seeking support in the island country for the Bohemian independence movement. While there he sculpted a statue of the then-president of Cuba, Mario Garcia Menocal, and also the wonderful statue ‘Alma Mater’, which, to this day, still graces the entrance to the University in Havana.
During the 1920’s Korbel’s most significant sponsor was Mr. George Booth, the owner of the Detroit News.
In 1927 Korbel was elected to the French Legion of Honor and continued to show his works worldwide well into the 1930s. He also designed medals for the Czechoslovakian National Council of America and the British-American Ambulance Corps. He passed away in his New York City home in 1954. He was survived by a son, John Joseph Korbel, (who was actually born in Havana, Cuba) and who earned a PhD from Harvard and went on to become a professor of economics at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. He was also survived by a sister, Annie Kroupa.
Today Korbel’s works are housed in such prestigious institutions as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, Detroit Museum of Fine Arts, the Vatican, as well as being found museums located in Illinois, Colorado, Ohio, and untold private collections worldwide. His works are highly sought after by collectors today and even his small items command prices in the thousands of dollars, with his larger pieces, although hardly ever available, realizing prices well into six-figures.
One can only imagine what the commission price of the beautiful ‘Resignation’ would be these days. I am sure Emanuel Beránek would be very proud of his fellow Czech-American as well as his own decision to commission him for his fabulous family memorial!