Mario Joseph Korbel, Czech/American (1882 - 1954)

Mario Joseph Korbel

Mario Josef Korbel was born in 1882, in Oslik, Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic). His early education was in a Pietist Protestant sect, the Moravian Church that originated in Bohemia in the 1400s. Though Mario showed an interest and talent for art at an early age, his father, Josef Korbel, a church member, refused to allow his son to pursue art as a career. However, his mother, Katherine Dolezal, who was a Catholic, arranged for him to model ornamental sculpture.(1)

At the age of eighteen, Korbel moved to New York and then to Chicago, where he took a position at Kunst and Pfaffke modeling ornamental interior moldings. In 1905 he returned to Europe to study, first in Berlin and then at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, where he studied for three years. Korbel attended the Académie Julian in Paris, where he showed his work at a 1909 Salon exhibition.(2)

After returning to Chicago the following year, Korbel was asked to design a monument to commemorate a Bohemian patriot in the city of Racine, Wisconsin. He was also commissioned to sculpt several portraits and other public and private commissions in Chicago, St. Louis, Denver, and other Western cities. (3) Early in his career, Korbel embraced the classical traditions in art, especially the simpler forms of early Greek sculpture that French sculptor August Rodin (1840-1917) and others exemplified at the end of the nineteenth century. Katherine Solender noted that Korbel's "classical sense of order and proportion, as well as his intimate sensitivity to the decorative quality of line” won him commercial success.(4)

One of his most well known classical works, Andante (dated 1926), was cast in a series of seven statuettes and in two larger versions, and versions are now in the New York Metropolitan Museum and the Detroit Institute of the Arts. Andante is composed of two figures that personify the elegance and cadence of slow, ritualistic dance. The artist favored this subject matter in several other sculptures and sculptural groups. Genthe refers to a figural work entitled The Dancer, a voluptuous nude posed on one foot, her arms flung forward. The model for this work, a woman named Hilda Beyer, became Korbel's love interest and modeled for many of his works.(5) They were later married, but divorced in 1924.

Korbel was a member of the American Academy, the French Legion of Honor, the National Sculpture Society, the Architectural League of New York, the Czechoslovak Art Club, the Evangelical Church Club and the Embassy Club.(6) His best-known works include a soldier's monument he sculpted for the state of Illinois; the McPhee Memorial in Denver; and Alma Mater, a sculpture commissioned for the University of Havana, Cuba. He also designed medallions for the British-American Ambulance Corps and the Czech National Council.

Footnotes: 1. Arnold Genthe, "The Work of Mario Korbel and Walter D. Goldbeck", International Studio 57 (November 1915), xix.
2. Janis Conner and Joel Rosenkrantz, Rediscoveries in American Sculpture: Studio Works 1893-1939, (Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1989), 95-104.
3. Genthe, xix.
4. Katherine Solender, "Mario Korbel", The American Way of Sculpture, 1890-1930, exhibition catalogue (Cleveland: Cleveland Museum of Art, 1986), 36.
5. Genthe, xx.
6. "Mario Korbel, 72, A Noted Sculptor", (obituary), The New York Times

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Sculptor, Mario Joseph Korbel was born in Czechoslovakia (1882) and at age 18, came to the United States (1900), where he eventually settled in Chicago, Illinois.

He spent five years in the United States and returned to Europe (1905), studying in Berlin; at the Royal Academy, Munich; and at the Academie Julian, Paris. He returned to Chicago in 1909 and opened a studio, and four years later he moved to New York City.

He usually worked in bronze, often experimenting with this media, trying new patinas and textures. He often depicted idealized female nudes, often dancers, and eventually married one. He worked in the classical tradition.

He visited Cuba twice, in 1917 and 1925.

Korbel was an Associate Member of the National Academy of Design, 1937; and full member of the Nation Academy of Design, 1944.

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