Franz Barwig (1868-1931)

My great-grand-uncle Franz Barwig (1868-1931) was a sculptor. He was born in Schönau/Neutitschein in the Sudetenland part of Czechoslovakia. After being a freelancer, a well-regarded Austrian sculptor, then teaching at the Technical College of Wood-Working in Villach until 1909, Franz Barwig was professor of sculpture at the Vienna Kunstgewerbeschule until 1921. He worked in wood, bronze, and later stone. He is famous for his sculptured animals, most of them in bronze, and his sculpture Dancing Peasants located at the town fountain of Neutitschein in Moravia (Czechia).

In 1925 he went on a three-year trip with his son to the United States, to sculpt about 90 figurated capitals and a series of animal reliefs and garden statues decorating the vacation home of one of our presidents, in Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida. The 118-room luxury estate was built by Marjorie Merriweather Post, the owner of General Foods, and bought by Donald Trump in 1985.

My grandparents lived close by in Sternberg. My grandfather Rudolf Barwig was a lawyer in the 1930s and later on presiding judge at the district court in Sternberg. Czechoslovakia was annexed in 1938 by the Nazis and my grandparents forced out of the country at the end of World War II and resettled in Rüsselsheim, Germany, the European seat of General Motors (in German: Opel).

Franz Barwig (the elder) firmly holds his ground on the Vienna art scene between 1900 and 1918. Already his first sculptures, when shown at the 1904 "Hagenbund" exhibition ("Hagen" used to be one of the foremost artists' confederations of Vienna), won him much praise by the critics. Until 1908, wood was his favorite material, and he developed a highly personal carving style particu­larly suited to that material and also allowing to unite bold abbrevi­ations of form and expressive vigor. It is regrettable that of those works, which represent a very special trend in the Vienna of the "Secession" period, a small number only has survived. In 1908, Barwig took an important part in the design of the great festive procession that was held in Vienna to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Emperor Franz Joseph's ascension to the throne. It was at about the same time that the artist did his first bronze sculpture, which is also one of the first nudes in his oeuvre. Still, the human body was not yet as important a theme for him before the Great War than it was to become within the last ten years of his life, when he led an incessant search for the "ideal figure" which would have come up to his elevated moral and ethical demands. In 1910, Barwig did most of his finest sculptured animals, most of them in bronze, which gave that subject a new artistic raison d'être within sculptural art: abandoning the monumentalized fights of beasts or accessories to monuments to which animals were restricted in 19th century art, Barwig at the same time endows them with such artistic merit as to place them far above any unpretentious "diversion". Those bears, panthers, and other animals are not given a new interpretation, but the very essence of their being is made visible in a most clear and simple manner. Ornament, applied with moderation, is used for stressing certain details. From 1912 to 1914, however, some sculptures show a prevalence of graphic and ornamental traits; the style of Gustav Klimt and also of the "Wiener Werkstätte" exerted a mighty influence at that period.

The Great War and subsequent dissolution of the Austro-Hun­garian Monarchy did not just mean a break in Barwig's develop­ment; in part, it gave a different turn to his production. Before 1914, his sculptures had obviously stemmed from a common ground; nudes, animals and religious works had a certain affinity, and this unity of style was an important characteristic of that early phase. After the war, Barwig did a number of life-size nudes and many groups and individual figures of dancing and brawling peasants which prove his intense affection and attachment to his native Moravia (Czech Republic). From a collective viewpoint, Barwig's style is variable after 1918, as he culls from different fields, and a certain historicism determines part of his production.

Franz Barwig was born on April 19th, 1868, in Schönau (Senov, Moravia, close to Ostrau/Ostrava, Czech Republic). During boyhood already he carved figures representing Christ's nativity and saints reminiscent of Gothic art. In 1888, he went to Vienna, and there, at the school for arts and crafts, he obtained a solid training; special stress was laid upon manual skill. The first commissions he got were for decorative designs (furniture etc.). In 1903, he executed stone statues for Vienna's Canisius church (9th district). His membership with the "Hagenbund" (from 1905) and appurtenance to the teaching staff of the school for arts and crafts (from 1910, as a professor) enabled him to participate in the annual exhibitions in Vienna. But also abroad - at Munich, Dresden, Berlin, Zurich, Rhome, Turin etc. - and in countries pertaining to the Monarchy - Brünn (Brno), Znaim (Znojmo), Budapest - exhibitions showed works by him from 1903 onwards.

From 1904 to 1906, Barwig was a teacher at the professional school for wood-carving at Villach, Carinthia (Austria); from 1910 to 1922, professor at the Vienna school for arts and crafts. The years 1925 to 1927 he spent in the United States, decorating with his sculptures a newly-built mansion the architect of which, Joseph Urban of Vienna (another member of the "Hagenbund" before 1910), had convoked him there. No less than about 90 figurated capitals and a series of animal reliefs and garden statues were the result of those one and a half years of intense work. To a certain degree, Barwig was bound to Urban's historicising architecture, and so he found himself inspired of medieval architectural sculpture for that cycle.

On May 15th, 1931, the well-renowned and respected artist, whose position had become ever more isolated during the past few years, put an end to his life.

G. Frodl (translated by E. Baum, Österreichische Galerie 1969)



Franz Barwig's Sculptures:

  Greta Barwig

  Dancing Peasants

This sculpture is located at the town fountain of Neutitschein in Moravia (Czechia)

  Dancing Bear


  Shivering Peasant

  Lying Deer


  Sitting Bear

  Sitting Bear

  Standing Bear

  Hercules and Hydra